1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 21

1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 21

“Don’t say it! Don’t say it!” exclaimed Judy and Cecilia Renata simultaneously.


The time turned out to be just about what Judy had figured. At this time of year, sunset came around six in the evening. The sun was clearly below the horizon, although they couldn’t see it directly through the narrow window in the tower that rose above the cellars. But it was still twilight.

“We should probably wait till it gets a little darker,” Judy whispered.

Minnie nodded her agreement. They’d have to extend their antenna out of the window in order to send or receive a signal. At this time of day, it was unlikely that anyone would observe the antenna, but it wasn’t impossible. Once darkness fell, no one would spot it.

So, they waited another half hour. Two floors below them, Leopold and his sister watched in case someone came into this detached wing of the palace. Which was just as unlikely, since it was only being used these days for storage–and not storage of anything fancy or expensive. The wall opposite the entrance to the tower that the two young Habsburgs were watching from was covered with suspended saddles. Used, worn saddles. Just barely functional enough not to get pitched.

“Okay,” Judy said, when she judged the time was right.

Slowly, carefully, Minnie extended the antenna. She did so mostly because the antenna wasn’t all that sturdy and they couldn’t afford to take the risk of damaging it.

Finally, she was done. Judy moved back into the narrow staircase leading down to the cellar and lit the candle she’d brought with her. Then, carefully shielding it with her hand so no significant amount of light would escape through the narrow window, she brought it close enough to enable Minnie to operate the radio.

Minnie found the right frequency and began the transmission. It was well-established protocol that the hideaways in the cellars would always initiate radio contact, since they could only come out of hiding on infrequent occasions while the USE army’s operators could maintain their watch twenty-fours a day, every day of the year.

Even using manually transmitted Morse code, she was done soon. The message had been short and simple:


About fifteen minutes later, the answer came back:


Minnie began drawing the antenna back in. “That’s exactly what they said last time,” Judy complained. “Word for word.”

Minnie made no reply. There was nothing to say other than so yet another week of monotony awaits us. Yippee.

Chapter 6

Brno, capital of the Margraviate of Moravia

Kingdom of Bohemia

“I still say it would have been smarter to just buy some of the new rifles Struve-Reardon is making.” His brow creased with disapproval, Paul Santee gazed down at the rifle on the table before them. “This thing is just a copy of a Sharps, like the French Cardinal. A crude one, to boot. Hell, they’ve had it for two years already. In time of war, you know, the pace of gun development–”

“Rises rapidly,” said Morris Roth. “Yes, Paul, I know. You’ve said it about two thousand times already. But what’s involved here is a political issue, not a practical one. I’d have preferred it myself if we’d taken the same money we shoveled into SZB’s coffers and just bought the SR-1s from Struve-Reardon. But the problem is the ‘S’ in SZB. That stand for státní which, since you still don’t speak or read Czech very well–I’m not criticizing, you haven’t been here all that long–means ‘state.’ As in Státní zbrojovka v Brno, ‘state armament works of Brno.’ Guess who has the controlling interest in the company?”

“Wallenstein,” said Paul sourly. “AKA King Venceslas V Adalbertus of Bohemia. Is the man really that greedy?”

Morris shook his head. “Actually, I doubt if Wallenstein made much if any money on the ZB 1636. His motives aren’t pecuniary. They’re political. First, he wants the prestige of Bohemia’s having its own major gun manufacturer. Secondly and more importantly, he thinks that his kingdom’s having its own armaments works will be important in the long run. I have to say I think he’s probably right about that.”

The third man standing in the small show room of the SZB’s armaments plant drew a pistol from a holster and held it up for display. “Besides, Mr. Santee, if you’d been devoting your efforts to designing a new rifle you wouldn’t have had the time or money to develop this marvelous weapon.”

General Franz von Mercy gazed at the pistol admiringly. “The infantry will do well enough with the ZB 1636, as clumsy–no, what’s that word you Americans use? Clanky?”

“Clunky,” Morris provided.

“Yes, that one. As clunky as it may be. It’s the cavalry that truly needs the more advanced weaponry.”

Morris was amused to see the new expression on Santee’s face. Despite the man’s determination to be morose, Paul couldn’t help but enjoy von Mercy’s praise. The weapon the general was holding up was also being made by the State Armament Works of Brno, but unlike the rifle the pistol had been designed by Santee himself. He’d modeled it on a little-known Italian pistol made in the early twentieth century, the Pedersoli Howdah. To modern-day Americans, the gun looked like a double-barreled sawed-off shotgun with a pistol grip. Like a shotgun, the weapon had an unlocking lever which allowed the barrels to be tilted down so the gunhandler could reload by simply sliding in the premade cartridges. Santee had designed the pistol so that it could fire paper cartridges, since that was the most common ammunition, but could be converted to brass cartridges whenever those were finally being made in sufficient quantity.

The original Pedersoli Howdah had been chambered either for a .45 caliber round or a 410-bore shotgun shell. Santee had chosen to design his model for a .58 caliber round. He’d made the barrels a bit longer also–twelve inches to the original ten and a quarter. It was a heavy pistol, by up-time standards, but down-timers accustomed to the wheel-locks of the day found it to be less weighty than they were accustomed to.

Every cavalryman who had been issued one of the pistols adored it. The official designation for the gun was the ZB 2, but the soldiers themselves called it the Santee. So far only five hundred cavalrymen had been provided with ZB-2s, partly because the pistols were time-consuming to make but mostly because every cavalryman wanted at least six of them–two holstered at the waist, two in boot holsters, and two more in saddle holsters. This wasn’t a capricious demand on their part. Reloading such weapons in the middle of a cavalry charge was effectively impossible, so cavalrymen of the era typically carried multiple pistols.

But Morris figured he still had a few weeks before he had to order his army into action. By then, the entire cavalry should be equipped with the new pistols. The reason he’d decided to devote most of their resources to developing pistols instead of rifles was simple. His little army had only four thousand men–which to his way of thinking made it all the more absurd that Wallenstein insisted on calling it the Grand Army of the Sunrise. Fully half of them were cavalry, and they were by far the most experienced half of his army. The core of them were the professional soldiers von Mercy had brought with him when he entered Bohemia’s service, and most of the ones who had joined later were also veterans.

The infantry, on the other hand…

Six hundred of them were Jews, for starters. Having any Jewish soldiers was unheard of in Europe of the seventeenth century. Openly self-identified ones, at any rate. It was not uncommon to have Jews serving in naval forces, but they kept their religious affiliation to themselves. These soldiers, on the other hand, had been recruited mostly from Prague, which was hundreds of miles inland.


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12 Responses to 1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 21

  1. donny says:

    After looking up the pedersoli, apparently 6 of them will give a total of only 12 shots. I fail to see the point to this design when revolvers are already available. The only point I can see is the pedersoli can also fire buckshot. Perhaps the reason for this design is that Santee is a gun nut.

    • Douglas Lampert says:

      If they need to make it themselves and find even this complicated it’s quite possible they can’t make a workable revolver.

      Also: If they’re using black-powder, you want a bigger bullet since it’s slower, that’s awkward on a revolver, and you want multiple barrels rather than multiple chambers because black-powder will foul the barrel with repeated use, especially if you don’t clean the barrel between every shot (the wadding does at least a little cleaning in routine reloading of a black-powder muzzle loader, but not a breach loader, this was a major problem for those black-powder repeating breach loaders that did exist).

      I don’t know that this would be superior to a revolver for their purposes, but it doesn’t strike me as clearly inferior.

      • donny says:

        Black powder fouls, but not so fast as to not interfere in the space of a single action.

        And, revolvers are already being manufactured . If necessary, Roth could probably convince Wallenstein to defer his armament industry plans .

        • jtg452 says:

          You can work around the fouling issue with some forethought in the design and a little preparation.

          Those deep grooves on the arbors of Colt cap and ball revolvers weren’t done for aesthetics. It’s so that the fouling, combined with a good lubricant, has someplace to go before they start gumming things up. The stronger, solid frame Remington has a smaller base pin design and will bind up faster.

          Even the Model 1873 (aka the Single Action Army) takes that into consideration. There’s a removable bushing in the cylinder that the base pin rides on. Both it and the cylinder can rotate when independent of each other, so when one of them starts to bind up, the other can continue rotating.

          I shoot BP .45Colt ammo in CAS competitions and my revolvers (Colt Single Action Army clones or Colt Open Top replicas) are reliable out past 100 rounds before binding issues due to excessive fouling start to rear their ugly heads. That’s about 4 times the standard pistol ammo issue for a 19th Century US cavalryman and almost double the combined total (pistol and carbine) standard ammo issue of 24 rounds of pistol and 40 for the carbine.

          • Tweeky says:

            “Those deep grooves on the arbors of Colt cap and ball revolvers weren’t done for aesthetics. It’s so that the fouling, combined with a good lubricant, has someplace to go before they start gumming things up.”

            For someone who’s not a gun expert or user what are these arbors and the deep grooves on them?

            • jtg452 says:

              The grooves in the arbor (picture a machine screw the size of your ring finger in length and diameter but instead of a screw thread, it has ring shaped grooves that are wide and fairly deep) are there to hold more lube and as a place where the fouling can settle that’s out of the way and not interfering with the action functioning.

              That help any?

              If you search for something like ‘Colt 1847 Walker dissassembly’, there should be a YouTube video or 10 out there that will show the parts and have a better explanation.

  2. jtg452 says:

    Considering the use of breast plates during the time frame in question, I can see wanting to use something heavier than most BP revolvers. A Walker firing conicals would be about as good as you can get from a historic BP revolver and I don’t know how it would do against armor plate. I don’t think it would be a reliable answer to the issue, though.

    Break actions are dirt simple, so they have fewer parts and are easier to manufacture. Exposed hammer break action side by side like the howdah pistol are only slightly more complicated and that comes from having to regulate both barrels to have the same point of impact at a given range.

    You’re not getting a high velocity, couldn’t use it if you got it since lead projectiles can’t be pushed more than about the speed of sound, so you need the increased mass to make up for it. The only way to do that is to either make the bullet longer or bigger around. Going from a .454″ round ball that weighs about 140gr to a .57″ that weighs about 280gr is one way to do it. A Minie ball would be even heavier.

    With it being a .58, I can also see building a matching carbine to ease logistics. Use a 50-60gr powder charge and it would work for both. The flame from the pistol would be epic but the carbine would have a reach of a few hundred yards in the hand of someone capable.

  3. Andreas says:

    How do they know it’s even a USE radio operator answering? The Ottomans seem to have caught on to quite a few other tricks. On the other hand, the use of the hidden radio doesn’t seem to be of any use to any one so far…

    • Drak Bibliophile says:

      First, the operator is using the proper codes.

      Second, why would the Ottomans have a reason to try to fool them? After all, if the Ottomans knew about them hiding, then the Ottomans would have found them (or attempt to find them).

      Third, while I’m not going to spoil the story, further snippets will show that it isn’t the Ottomans answering their messages.

      • jtg452 says:

        This could be interesting since Harry has supposedly grown up and became, more or less, a family man.

      • Andreas says:

        Well, it was just an honest question. I don’t remember anything about codes being used for authentication or encryption. I would also imagine that, especially in this low-tech low-resources kind of situation they would stick to unencrypted morse code for convenience.

        • Drak Bibliophile says:

          If I came across as Harsh, I apologize.

          In any case, IIRC Minnie did use codes when she first radioed about the situation.

          Simple codes were used in the days of telegraph communications when a sender wanted to send confidential messages.

          I doubt that Minnie’s boss would want his messages (or his agents’ messages) to be understood by anybody with a radio. [Grin]

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