1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 35
Chapter 13: The River Defense
“The general is in the radio room.”
“Yes. It’s in the tower.” The private in the city militia pointed at the Kazan kremlin.
It took Alexander a few minutes to get to the tower located in the kremlin wall. It was a tall tower and above it was a pole reaching even higher. He made his way into the tower and was directed to a room on the bottom floor. Even with the large antenna, this wasn’t a powerful radio. They didn’t have the amplifiers that up-timers had to make radios that would reach across hundreds of miles. This radio only reached about twenty miles. That meant it could reach Sviyazhsk sitting on top of Kruglaya Mountain and through Sviyazhsk a chain of back country radio outposts that would eventually reach the radio network already established in western Russia. It was also planned to reach Ufa eventually, but for now it was basically a link to Sviyazhsk.
The radio room was also the telephone room. Within Kazan they used telephones connected by copper wires and a switch board. It allowed Tim to talk to just about anywhere in the kremlin and most of the rest of the city, at least the city walls and bastions. Right now there was a great mass of construction work going on. It was mostly sandbags and using Fresno scrapers to dig trenches and build up mounds. Alexander found himself wondering how effective that sort of wall would prove against a determined cavalry charge. He had heard about the disastrous cavalry charge at Rzhev, but he hadn’t been there and he couldn’t help but wonder if it was just that it wasn’t carried through as it should have been.
General Lebedev was standing behind the radio operator, reading over the man’s shoulder as he wrote out the message clicking in.
“Four steamboats loaded with troops and cannon left Moscow by way of Moscova River yesterday.”
“How does Sviyazhsk know that?” Alexander asked.
“This isn’t from Sviyazhsk. It’s from the dirigible.” General Lebedev didn’t look up as he answered the question. He kept reading. “Estimate a hundred streltzi and two cannon per riverboat. The dirigible is heading for Ufa, but will try to keep us informed as they can.” Then he stood and turned to Alexander. “Who are — Alexander Volkov?”
“Yes, General.” Alexander decided at the last minute to address Tim as general. “Czar Mikhail has assigned me to your forces.”
“Really? I must thank him when I get an opportunity.” Then General Tim shook himself. “I’m sorry, Captain. I should have long since given over schoolboy resentments. I really can use you. What do you know about river combat? Ivan Maslov is out at Sviyazhsk, with not much of anything to stop those boats, and I don’t have a lot more.”
Alexander was at a loss, then something Cass Lowry had said while drunk in a tavern occurred to him. “‘Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.’ ”
“I’m not sure. I’m not even entirely sure what a torpedo is. But I think it has something to do with naval warfare. It’s something Cass Lowry said when he was drunk. He said it’s from river fighting in the up-timer’s civil war. Of course, he also said his prick was a torpedo. It didn’t make much sense.”
The general turned back to the radio man. “Is the Czarina still in range?”
“I think so, sir.”
“Have him ask Bernie about torpedoes in the American Civil War.”
The radio man started clicking. “Well, Captain, I hope Bernie knows about torpedoes. Even if he doesn’t, though, it was worth a try. Welcome to Kazan.”
As it happened, Bernie didn’t know about torpedoes in the Civil War. In fact, the information that Bernie had about torpedoes was useless . . . except to explain Cass Lowry’s reference to his prick. However, Ivan Alexandrovich Choglokov was very interested in American history. He had been at the Dacha since ’32 and had been on the second steamboat out. His family was prominent at court, but not quite of great family status. And Ivan knew where to find out what a torpedo was in 1860. He looked it up in the encyclopedia.
And suddenly they had a plan.
Colonel Mikhail Petrovich Kolumb looked at Alexander with a less than fully pleased expression. “Well, Captain, I take it you’re another of the baby general’s favorites.”
Alexander listened to the colonel’s voice and the bitterness in it. “No. I’m one of the ones who picked on him in the Kremlin,” he said, putting as much regret and resentment in his voice as he could. He was able to put a lot of regret and resentment that statement. It was easy. Alexander hadn’t realized till just now how much he resented Boris Timofeyevich’s rapid advancement. Little Tim wasn’t even the smart one. That was Ivan Maslov. Tim was just in the right place at the right time. Alexander had been a full lieutenant when the Rzhev campaign had happened, but he had missed it and Tim had come back promoted. Then the little bastard had been in just the right spot when the Czar needed someone, and now he was a frigging general.
“Can’t blame you,” the colonel said, his voice much less resentful or at least a lot more congenial. “I haven’t seen much sign of the military genius that everyone talks about.”
“Tim’s not the smart one. That’s Ivan Mazlov, the baker’s son. Tim was just his cover in the upper nobility.”
“Is the baker’s boy really that smart?” Now the colonel was sounding doubtful but interested.
Alexander considered. “At the time I didn’t think so. It just seemed like he had a knack for the war games that General Shein was so enamored of.” Alexander saw the colonel’s nod and held up his hand. “I’m beginning to think that Ivan Mazlov may actually be a very smart operator, and I’ve seen some things that make me think that the games may be more useful than I had thought when I was at the Kremlin. I think that the new rifles really mean a lot when it comes to tactics.”
“Humph! Well, perhaps. But what about all these sand bags? General Lebedev is starting to be called Sandbag Timmy, and the price of cloth has gone up because of all of it he’s turning into sandbags.” The man shrugged. “Meanwhile, I’m supposed to fit you out with underwater mines.”
Alexander nodded. Word had come back quickly and designs, even models, had arrived almost as quickly by riverboat.
“Well, I’m looked at the designs. The craftsmen of Kazan are quite capable of making the things.”
They talked it through and Colonel Kolumb sent Alexander off to a craftsman’s shop. A few days later Tim had a load of mines and instructions about placing and retrieving them. And the craftsman had a voucher from the Czar’s Bank in Ufa.
On the Volga
Andrei Fefilatevich Danilov looked up at the dirigible and cursed. That monster had been tracking them since they left Moscow a week and a half — and three breakdowns — ago.
It was hard enough convincing General Birkin to let him take the steamboats without that skywhale hanging up there marking their location. His was a small force. Partly that was because General Birkin had to deal with Director-General Sheremetev, who didn’t trust the steamboats, and at the same time didn’t want them wasted in combat. They were too valuable transporting goods, especially food, considering all the serfs that had run off. Reports that Kazan and Sviyazhsk had gone over to Mikhail Romanov had been ignored. Andrei hadn’t gotten permission for this expedition till the reports of diverted riverboats started coming in.
Most of the army was slowly slogging along the Klyazma River, not that far from Moscow. And it was starting to look unlikely that they would be able to get to Kazan before the winter freeze started. If that happened, they would have to stop and wait for hard winter, after the rivers froze. Andrei looked forward and smiled. It wasn’t all bad news. If his was a tiny force, he still had two of the breech-loading six-pounder cannon mounted on each of his four river boats. That would let him fire on Sviyazhsk as soon as Kruglaya Mountain came in sight. Which, if they didn’t have another breakdown, ought to be tomorrow or the next day. He could steam right up to the docks, drop his troops, then stand off to give covering fire with the breechloaders. Once Sviyazhsk was taken, he would move the cannon to the port side for the assault on Kazan. He might as well. He wasn’t going to have surprise in his favor, anyway. Not with that damned skywhale watching.
Quietly, eighty feet ahead of Andrei Fefilatevich Danilov’s lead boat, eight inches below the surface of the Volga, an iron pot waited. It was upside down, filled with black powder and air, making it light enough to bob to the surface if it weren’t for the rope and anchor keeping it below the muddy surface of the Volga. There was no malevolence in the waiting murderer, nor any sense of fair play. No intellect at all. It was a device, nothing more. The pot had had holes cut in it and nails, driven through wax seals. It would only take a tap to drive one of those nails forward to release a catch and allow a wound wheel-lock to spin making a shower of sparks to ignite the powder and . . . Boom!
It wouldn’t be a good day for the steamboat.
On the shore, not two hundred feet from the mines, were a group of sixty men, hiding in the brush that covered the shore. They each had a chamber-loading rifle, the AK3 flintlocks, not the new AK4 caplocks. The production of caps was also still in that part of Russia that Sheremetev commanded.