1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 56
“Shut up, Baurer,” said the young major. His tone now was not pleasant in the least. “He’s just a kid.”
Kozlowski would have sighed in relief, except he was too intent on remaining expressionless. A man as young as this major who was both calm and given to kindness was not the sort who’d kill someone unless he had to–which he certainly didn’t here and now.
Finally, someone came down the stairs. It was Nicolai, though, not the captain.
“This is the unit’s senior sergeant, Nicolai Korczak,” Kozlowski explained. To Nicolai, he hissed in Polish: “Where’s Gomółka?”
“In the toilet, drinking vodka and probably shitting his pants,” was the answer.
Useless as always. Kozlowski cleared his throat and switched back to German. “Ah, the commanding officer is, ah, indisposed.” He wasn’t sure he was pronouncing “indisposed” properly, but from the immediate grin that appeared on the major’s face he’d apparently come close.
“As officers so often are,” said the major. “Where is the best place to keep the lot of you in captivity?”
“Ah… Well. Upstairs, I suppose. That’s where we mostly spend our time when we’re on duty.”
“Upstairs it is, then.” The officer waved one of his men forward. Not the one who’d ridiculed Jerzy. “Go up there and take their surrender, Sergeant Seiler. Take three men with you. Collect all their weapons–everything including whatever knives you find–and bring them down here. The weapons, I mean. We can leave the prisoners up there for the time being.”
His expression grew darker. The distant sound of gunfire was swelling quickly. Somewhere in the city, a battle had started. “I have to go. Baurer, find Lieutenant Unger and tell him I’m leaving his platoon in charge of the barbican and the prisoners. The rest of us will head for the market square.”
The soldier started down the stairs. The major turned back to Kozlowski. “As long as you give us no trouble, no harm will come to you.”
And off he went. Finally, Kozlowski breathed the sigh of relief he’d been holding in.
By the time the 20th Battalion reached the central square, the Polish garrison had had time to regroup. They had snipers positioned in many of the windows of the Cloth Hall, and had what looked like almost a full regiment–call it eight hundred men–assembled in formation in the square itself. They had artillery, too: three cannons lined up in front of the infantry. Four-pounders, they looked like. If the officers in charge were competent, they’d have them loaded with canister.
Jeff did a quick estimate of the distances involved. The square as a whole was almost the size of ten football fields, but the distance from the place where his battalion had debouched out of the street they’d been following to the assembled enemy force wasn’t more than a hundred and fifty yards.
He and his men could cross that, certainly, even in the face of canister fire. But they’d suffer terrible casualties. There would be no cover at all.
“Screw that,” he said. He now glanced around at the nearby buildings fronting on the square. Most of them were three stories tall and had two windows on each floor. The windows were wide enough for two riflemen.
“Skirmishing fire, that’s the ticket.” Quickly, he issued his orders and squads began racing off. To the rear, not into the square. They’d be able to break into the buildings from the back side, drive out the residents and take positions in the windows. All told, he’d have about fifty men able to fire at one time. That was far fewer than the soldiers who’d be firing back, but his men had breech-loading rifles which were accurate within several hundred yards and could fire ten to twelve rounds a minute. Even the main Polish army in the north didn’t have guns that good, and he was sure the garrison down here in Krakow was even less well-armed.
The H&KC rifles would foul after a short while, since they were firing black powder. But while they were being cleaned and readied for use again, other men could have taken a place in the windows. He was sending three full companies into those buildings. They could maintain a continuous fire for at least an hour.
Jeff doubted very much if men standing in formation out in the open would hold up for long under that kind of fire. And the cannon wouldn’t do them much good, even after they got them realigned to fire on the buildings. His men could take shelter when the enemy artillery cut loose, and four-pounders would take forever to reduce those buildings.
Speaking of artillery…
“Where the hell are our mortars?” he demanded. He waved at one of his couriers. “Go find them and tell them to get a move on. I want them here, dammit.” They couldn’t possibly be far enough away to require radio communication.
The Polish troops in the square were starting to fire. Those were just nervous shots by individual soldiers, but it wouldn’t be long before the garrison’s officers ordered the cannon to open fire. At this distance, canister would wreak havoc on any men who’d come out into the square.
“Pull back!” he shouted. “Now!“
Within half a minute, the Polish artillery started firing, but by then Jeff had all of his men back into the street they’d come down and out of sight. The canister didn’t do anything more than chew holes in the adjoining buildings. Small holes. The kind you could still see in the up-time world he’d come from, pockmarking the walls of French villages which had the misfortune to be caught between German troops and the Allied invaders following D-Day. Jeff had seen photographs of them.
A minute or so later, he could hear the sound of his own troops beginning to fire from the windows in the buildings fronting the square. Within another minute, the fire had become continuous.
That had to be a slaughter out there. The Polish troops in the square were completely exposed and while the snipers in the Cloth Hall had shelter that wouldn’t do them much good if they tried to shoot anything. To do that, they’d have to get into their windows, and the USE’s snipers would have them completely outclassed.
For a moment, he considered going into one of the buildings so he could see the action himself. But he stifled the urge. He had good company commanders and he needed to stay here where he had his radio operators.
Two minutes later, the first mortar crews arrived.
“About time,” he growled. Not loudly, though, because he knew he was being unfair. Even 3.5″ mortars were hard to move when you had to carry them by hand. Each one weighed close to two hundred pounds, although they could be broken down into three parts: tube, bipod and base plate. The ammunition wasn’t what you’d call lightweight, either.
The first two mortar crews set up in the nearest intersection to the square, well out of sight of the Polish troops in the city center.
“Indirect fire, that’s the ticket,” Jeff murmured. More loudly, so the crews could hear him: “Set your range for two hundred yards and we’ll go from there.”
One of the radio operators came up. “Sir, Captain Foerster wants to talk to you.”
Jeff took the receiver. “What is it, Steffan?” Once again, he forget to say “over.”
“They’ve broken, Colonel. All of them are trying to get into the Cloth Hall. They abandoned the cannons, too. Over.”
“All right. Stay where you are for the moment. Provide us with suppressing fire.” He didn’t add while I figure out what to do next, since that would be unseemly. The DM always knew what came next.
He did remember to say “Out,” though.
In the event, Jeff didn’t have to figure out anything. Less than thirty seconds later, gunfire started erupting from somewhere catty-corner in the square. Eric must have arrived with elements of the 19th Battalion, which meant they’d captured the other barbican and–
Sure enough. He peeked around the corner and saw Bohemian cavalrymen pouring into the square. Within less a minute, they’d started a caracole, firing at the Cloth Hall.
Fortunately, the first mortar bombs landed far away from them. The crews had misjudged the range by at least a hundred yards and they were landing too far to the south.
He’d have to put a stop to their fire, though. So long as von Mercy kept his men in the square, they be at risk of being hit by friendly fire. He’d let the caracole go on for a while. As a straight-up tactic, it was pretty useless. But by now, Jeff’s guess was that the garrison was on the verge of surrendering anyway. Having the square filled with cavalrymen blasting away at the Cloth Hall was bound to have a discouraging effect on the enemy’s morale.
Sure enough. After another minute or so had gone by, the first white flags started spilling out of the windows in the Cloth Hall.
“So Krakow is ours and fairly won!” he announced loudly. It was a catchy phrase. He saw no reason to explain that he’d swiped it from William Tecumseh Sherman.
The DM was a fount of catchy phrases. Everyone knew that.