1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 36

1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 36

Ivan Maslov was using an AK3. Not because he didn’t have an AK4, but because he didn’t have the caps for it. There was a cap factory setting up in Kazan and another in Ufa, but as yet they had very limited output. For now at least they used what caps they did have just as sparingly as they could. He watched as the lead steamboat approached the mine. Just about now. . . .

Nothing happened.

The boat hit the mine. The nail went in. The spring didn’t release. The nail was moved, but not quite enough to release the spring.

Meanwhile, a trickle of water started to leak through the disturbed wax around the nail. The mine that had been pushed away by the contact with the hull of the steamboat floated back up and hit it again with a thump. Again, nothing happened. The spring quivered, but didn’t release. More drops of water leaked in. The iron pot went down and bounced up again. The spring released. The wheel-lock spun and the powder, which was mostly dry, ignited.

Whump!

The explosion was contained by the water surrounding the pot, but it was less constrained where the water was closest to the hull. It ripped a four by seven foot hole in the bottom of the boat. There was no sudden explosion . . . unless you count bilge water shooting all over the place. But a sixty by thirty foot steamboat with a hole that size in the bottom of its hull amidships is going down. It’s just a matter of time. And not much time.

The steam boat behind the leader turned to port to avoid the leader, which took it to the other side of the river from the waiting ambushers. Ivan cursed under his breath. Not only did that increase the range, it meant that the sinking steam boat would act as cover for the follower. The third boat in line, seeing the river blocked ahead and to port, turned to starboard. The fourth, having more time, reversed its engines and tried to back away at least long enough to gauge the situation. The standard conversion from sailing riverboat to steam riverboat was capable of reversing thrust, but it wasn’t a quick process and the steamboats had been traveling in line with not that much space between them.

The good news, Ivan didn’t know, was that the third boat had blocked the first boat’s cannon and, because it was turning its cannon too were pointed in the wrong direction.

“Fire,” Ivan shouted and shot at a man standing on the bow of the third boat with a line and sinker in hand. He missed, but that didn’t stop the man from dropping the line and ducking away from the railing.

Another forty odd shots rang out, as well as a few curses as flint locks failed to fire. There were three hits. Ivan popped the chamber from his carbine, tapped the second chamber over the pan, inserted it into the lock and closed the lock. All the while, he heard Lieutenant Vadim Viktorovich Lagunov crowing.

***

Vadim hadn’t liked the plan. Mostly because it was Ivan Maslov’s plan, but also because it didn’t quite fit in with his notion of martial glory. He was now starting to reconsider. There were four boats full of troops and cannon being held by sixty men and a bunch of mines. Besides, Vadim had hit his man. The captain, or perhaps a mate, but clearly someone important. He popped the chamber from his AK and started reloading.

***

On board the third boat, the first mate, now in command, was cursing the pilot for abandoning his post. The Volga here was not particularly deep and it had sand bars. Which was almost certainly why the ambush was placed here. He tried to guess where the sandbars might be, then he found one with the bow. “Stop engines,” he shouted. It was the right thing to say. The engineer pulled a lever that disconnected the prop from the engines. Now there was only momentum and current pushing the nose of his boat onto the sand bar. That was enough to push the nose a couple more feet into the sand, but the boat was at an angle to the current and the current pushed from the side. The third steamboat pivoted on its bow and came within a foot of wedging its stern on the sunken first steamboat. But a miss is as good as a mile, and the third steamboat of the expeditionary force pivoted around till it was facing upriver and came loose from the sandbar.

The first mate took that as a sign from God that upriver was the way they should be going. “Full speed ahead!” he shouted. The fact that they had taken seven more casualties in the two minutes it had taken for the boat to pivot might have had something to do with the mate’s interpretation of God’s will. That and the fact that he couldn’t see any slackening of the enemy fire and he couldn’t even see the people shooting at them, just the smoke from their guns.

***

The second boat, which had turned to starboard to avoid the first, got by without a scratch. However, its captain, who was not a boatman but a member of the service nobility, was now looking downriver and seeing in his mind’s eye a mine under every square foot of water. There was shooting behind him, but he was an experienced officer and gunfire was something he understood. He looked at the river ahead, then he looked at the battle behind. And he shouted to the boatman, “Turn us around!”

The boatman looked at him like he was crazy and the captain pulled his pistol. It was a six-shot black-powder caplock pistol, copied from an 1851 Colt and made in the gun shop. The boatman turned the boat around. “You’re going to take us right back the way we came.” The captain pointed. “And we’re going to drop ropes to pick up survivors from the lead boat.”

They made their way back up the river and didn’t take much fire. Most of the ambushers were still shooting at the retreating third boat. Much of the crew of the first boat were picked up, but the expedition commander had gone into the water wearing a steel breastplate.

***

Ivan looked around at the aftermath. His little force hadn’t taken so much as a scratch and there were three riverboats retreating back upriver. On the other hand, Ivan was pretty sure what he would do in this situation. He’d go upriver half a mile or so, till he was out of direct fire from the enemy, then he would unload the soldiers and sweep down the bank. “Sergei, head upriver and keep watch on the boats. If they land, run back and tell us.” Ivan turned to Lieutenant Vadim Viktorovich Lagunov. “Well fought, Lieutenant. Signal our steamboat to collect the rest of the mines, and let’s see if there’s anything on that –” He pointed at the riverboat sunk to its smokestack in the center of the river.

“Right, Major,” Vadim said with less resentment than Ivan was expecting.

It took an hour to collect up the five other mines that had been placed and by that time Sergei was back with a report of infantry marching along the riverbank. “The boats are staying back of the infantry,” Sergei added, grinning a gap-toothed grin.

“How many?”

“A lot, Captain. Three hundred and more, I make it, and they have the AK4s. They left the cannon on the boats, though.”

“Shit. I’d like to try and bring up the guns on that wreck out there, but . . . How long before they get here?”

“Maybe a half-hour. I ran after I got a look at ’em.”

“We could put out a screen to delay them,” offered Vadim.

Ivan shook his head regretfully. “I’d like to, Vadim, but we just don’t have enough men. All right. Get everyone on the boat and we’ll go to the next spot.”

The next spot was seventeen miles downriver, where the Volga split into three channels with visible sandbars between them. Only the rightmost channel was deep enough for a boat, and if they put out the mines in that channel there was a good chance that they would get another boat. Seventeen miles was a couple of hours by steamboat, but a long day’s march along a twisting, muddy riverbank.

“Will we set up another ambush?”

“No. Just a couple of scouts, and they will be a half-mile or so downriver from the mines. Then we’ll see what they do next. If they have people on both sides of the river, we’ll keep retreating before them. But if they put them all on one side, we’ll set up an ambush on the other.”

“Why?” Vadim asked. The question wasn’t derisive, but curious.

“Because a group like that can only go as fast as its slowest unit. Every time the troops on either side of the river run into an obstacle, everyone has to wait till they negotiate it. So we want them split into as many groups as we can manage.”

***

Ivan’s force had good news — well, mixed news — when they camped that night. The three remaining boats had stopped at the ambush site to recover the cannon and the lost rifles from the sunken steamboat. They spent two days doing that, then the riverboats went on, while many of the troops marched along the riverbank on the southwest side of the river.

 

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6 Responses to 1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 36

  1. Bret Hooper says:

    Defeating them in detail! It won’t always be without casualties, of course, but just maybe it they can wreak much more havoc than they receive.

  2. Lyttenburgh says:

    “There was a cap factory setting up in Kazan and another in Ufa, but as yet they had very limited output”

    They HAD output – at all?! Did the authors forgot/ignore all the relevant data, connected with the process of caps production? Last year GG ran a serial about that – and what a pain it was to set up such factory in the Germanies. What makes them think it would be sooooo much easier in Russia? Or, to be more precise here – do you understand here, that you and your handwavium here just said “nah – screw you!” to the people, who spent considerable time and effort researching, thinking over and writing, how such production could be set up in the best of the possible circumstances?! Because you, the authors, said previously:

    “Five years after Bernie had brought plans for the Fresno scraper to Russia, they hadn’t reached Ufa. There were no roads in Ufa. There were trails, gaps between buildings”

    Oh, but now – in no time! – there is a cap factory in Ufa!

    “The standard conversion from sailing riverboat to steam riverboat was capable of reversing thrust”

    Are you saying that these are not specially constructed steamboats (once again – with these two authors you can’t be sure of anything!), but just “converted” downtime Russian riverboats with a steam engine on them?

    We know from the history, that in 1640s Voronezh shipbuilders began producing the most well-known Russian river merchant vessel type – so-called doschechnik, a flat bottomed one-mast cargo ship up to 20 yards (well, somewhere in 15-21 feet range) in length with the minimal crew of 7. The weight it could possibly carry differed due to size, but was usually up to 1 700 lbs .And here we are talking about things to come in 1640s – in the post RoF 1630s there still could use much smaller river kayuks and barkases. If we are talking about strug type of the universal river vessel, they were about 115 feet long, 28 feet wide, with the cargo capacity in the range of 130-150 tons. They were clearly not something a merchant would strive to acquire – they were primarily built by (and for) Cossacks and the military.

    The very first Russian-made ship of the European design was the Friderik, built in 1634 in Nizhny Novgorod using the expertise of the Schleswig-Holstein masters, and which then had been used in the Caspian trade with Persian (question – did the same thing happened in the NTL?). Friderik was 115 feet long, 40 feet wide, had three masts, 24 oars, and a crew of 78. His maiden voyage was his last one – she got into the storm and sank somewhere near modern Dagestan’s shores. Russia didn’t have galleys (as the books claims – inconvincibly) till 1690s Azov campaigns of Peter the Great. There simply were no expertise to build them.

    Now, what the authors claimed previously? That the steamship is capable of transporting about100 men AND 2 six-pounder cannons per vessel. This is much, much more, than what was possible for any unmodified Russian river vessels of the era – which would now have to fit in a steam engine within.

    “Another forty odd shots rang out, as well as a few curses as flint locks failed to fire.

    […]

    “There were four boats full of troops and cannon being held by sixty men and a bunch of mines”

    Now we know more about capabilities of the defenders. Maslov managed to scrounge only 60 soldiers, most of whom are armed (IF armed) with flintlocks… which couldn’t be true. The authors take all possible liberties with logic and history by SUDDENLY introducing Russia to the enormous number of A3 caplocks… but the thing is, in 1630s flintlocks were virtually unkown in Russia – the matchlocks were the thing!

    “The Volga here was not particularly deep and it had sand bars. Which was almost certainly why the ambush was placed here”

    Oh, gee – what a surprise! Couldn’t you use the cavalry for recon, morons?!

    “The boatman looked at him like he was crazy and the captain pulled his pistol. It was a six-shot black-powder caplock pistol, copied from an 1851 Colt and made in the gun shop.”

    […]

    It’s facepalm time! Also – a nobleman captain?! Whaaaaaat?

    “…but the expedition commander had gone into the water wearing a steel breastplate”

    […]

    Ah, where did he got one? Seeing as Russian nobility of time was really armor-light (remember – they had to buy everything themselves!) where did he got “a steel breastplate”?

    “Maybe a half-hour. I ran after I got a look at ’em.”

    Cuz you have no horsie. Now, imagine what kind of asset would a proper cavalry recon team be to either side. What, does the authors hate the cavalry as the type of the military – or simply don’t know a thing about their utility back then?

    ““Will we set up another ambush?”
    “No. Just a couple of scouts, and they will be a half-mile or so downriver from the mines. Then we’ll see what they do next. If they have people on both sides of the river, we’ll keep retreating before them. But if they put them all on one side, we’ll set up an ambush on the other.””

    Told you so! Their capacity for setting up ambushes was not great to begin with. The introduction of the roaming cavalry recon would upset even this.

    • Bret Hooper says:

      but the thing is, in 1630s flintlocks were virtually unkown [sic] in Russia – the matchlocks were the thing!

      Now, maybe Gorg & Paula overestimate the effects of the Ring of Fire on Russia some six years later, but Lyttenburgh clearly and grossly underestimates that effect when he insists on the absurd assumption that said effect is exactly zero.

      Told you so! Their capacity for setting up ambushes was not great to begin with. The introduction of the roaming cavalry recon would upset even this.
      But their capacity for setting up ambushes was sufficient to sink one of the enemy steamboats. And their commander was not so foolish as to split his meager forces by sending off a roaming cavalry recon when he has much more effective recon from the dirigible.

      • Lyttenburgh says:

        “Now, maybe Gorg & Paula overestimate the effects of the Ring of Fire on Russia some six years later, but Lyttenburgh clearly and grossly underestimates that effect when he insists on the absurd assumption that said effect is exactly zero.”

        There were no domestic small-arms manufacturing capacity in Russia in the OTL 1630s. All muskets, pistols, hakenbüchses etc. were imported. According to Huff&Goodlett Russians after the RoF – SUDDENLY! – decided to start (mass-)producing caplocks, skipping the intermediate phases of the domestic weapons manufacture development entirely. I.e. – there could not possibly be even minuscule amount of flintlocks even should we follow the (already improbable) internal logic of the series. The authors are not contradicting the reality “as-it-should-be” – they are not contradicting themselves.

        “But their capacity for setting up ambushes was sufficient to sink one of the enemy steamboats. And their commander was not so foolish as to split his meager forces by sending off a roaming cavalry recon when he has much more effective recon from the dirigible.”

        Their success rested on three factors:

        – Authors all-forgiving benevolence.
        – Deus Ex Machine in the form of conveniently mass produced/deliver on time mines.
        – That the unit of the ambushers had not been discovered.

        Now, should you (like any typical down time commander) have an active cavalry recon along the river, the chances of discovering both the potential ambush AND mines increases manifold. In fact, not doing that before you start ferrying your troops.

        Your second sentence in that quote betrays your incapability of understanding/deliberately misunderstanding me, then refusing to admit that and mulishly insisting on your erroneous interpretation. I was saying that Sheremetev’s army should utilize the cavalry recon – not the “Romanov loyalists” under “Major” Maslov, seeing as they hardly have any. That’s not the first time you totally misinterpret whatever I write here, instead choosing to fight a strawman.

        • Bret Hooper says:

          Oops: my error. I had been reading Lytt’s earlier comment about Sheremetov’s forces slogging along and his suggestion that they send off a lot of small cavalry recon units, and was thinking they already had done so, which would make his new suggestion inapplicable to Sheremetov’s sloggers, so I wrongly assumed Lytt’s new suggestion could only then apply to Maslov’s forces. I apologize.

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