1624: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 16:
After Jesse left—and Frank had clarified the nature of a colonoscopy—Mike decided to cut right to the chase. He had a faint hope that Simpson wouldn’t argue the matter for more than an hour, if Mike made clear from the outset that he’d made up his mind.
“Gentlemen. After long and careful consideration, I’ve decided that the army’s claim to the volley guns has to take first priority.”
“Blast it, Mike!” exploded Simpson, jettisoning his beloved protocol. “We need those Requa guns for the timberclads, if we’re to have any hope at all of suppressing cavalry raids on our river shipping.”
A faint hope got fainter.
“And who cares about that if we can’t win the battles?” demanded Jackson. “The best way to suppress cavalry raids is to smash up enemy cavalry before they can go out on raids in the first place.”
“Yes, I agree completely,” said Torstensson. “With all due respect, Admiral—”
Fainter and fainter.
It took closer to two hours, but in the end Simpson gave up the fight. Looked at from one angle, it was absurd for him to persist so stubbornly in the matter. With both his Prime Minister and the top commander of the USE’s army arrayed against him, he was bound to lose the dispute and was perfectly smart enough to have been aware of that five minutes from the outset.
Mike knew full well, of course, that what Simpson was really doing was storing up negotiating points. He’d eventually conceded the Requa volley guns—and within two days, at the outside, would be using that to twist Mike’s arm for something else he wanted.
So it went. Mike was no stranger to negotiating tactics himself. He’d probably agree to whatever Simpson wanted, if it was within reason. But, push came to shove, he’d never been a stranger to the magic word “no.”
After Simpson left, Mike gave Frank Jackson a sly little smile. “I take it from the vehemence of your arguments that you lost the debate you’d been having with Lennart here.”
Jackson gave Torstensson a look that was unkind enough to be right on the edge of insubordination.
“Well. Yeah. I did.”
Torstensson sniffed. “As if we down-timers are so stupid that it never occurs to us that skirmishing tactics are a lot safer than standing up in plain sight, all of us in a row. Ha! Until a good cavalry charge—even good pikemen, with good officers—shows us the folly involved.”
The jibe made and properly scored, Torstensson relented. “Frank, when your mechanics can start providing us with a sufficient quantity of reliable breechloaders, we will re-discuss the matter. But, for now, even with the new SRGs, we simply do not have a good enough rate of fire to be able to risk dispersing our troops too much.”
Jackson didn’t say anything. He just stared out of the window gloomily.
“C’mon, Frank, fill me in,” Mike said. “What happened in the exercises.”
Frank took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. “Pretty much what this cold-blooded damn Swede said would happen. The skirmishers did just fine—until the Opfors cavalry commanders decided they’d accept the casualties to get in close. After that, it was all over. Even the best riflemen we’ve got need twenty seconds to reload those SRGs. They’re still muzzle-loaders, Minie ball or no Minie ball. Cavalry can come a long ways in twenty seconds.”
He gave Torstensson another unkind look. “As he so cheerfully rubbed salt into my wounds, so can a good line of pikemen, if their officers are decisive enough. Which his were.”
Jackson sighed again. “After that, it’s just no contest. The skirmishers are scattered, not in a solid line with their mates to brace them and their officers right there to hold them steady. And a cavalry charge is scary as all hell. Most of them just took off running. The ones who did try to stand their ground got chopped up piecemeal. Bruised up, anyway.” Another unkind look was bestowed on the Swedish general. “They weren’t any too gentle with those poles and clubs they were using instead of lances and sabers, let me tell you.”
“Spare the rod and spoil the recruit,” Torstensson said cheerfully.
Mike nodded. He wasn’t really surprised, though. One of the things he’d come to learn since the Ring of Fire, all the way down to the marrow of his bones, was that if the ancestors of twentieth century human beings didn’t do something that seemed logical, it was probably because it wasn’t actually logical at all, once you understood everything involved. So it turned out that such notorious military numbskulls as Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Phil Sheridan, Stonewall Jackson, William Tecumseh Sherman and all the rest of them hadn’t actually been idiots after all. It was easy for twentieth century professors to proclaim loftily that Civil War generals had insisted on continuing with line formations despite the advent of the Minie ball-armed rifled musket because the dimwits simply hadn’t noticed that the guns were accurate for several hundred yards. When—cluck; cluck—they should obviously have adopted the skirmishing tactics of twentieth century infantry.
But it turned out, when put to a ruthless seventeenth century Swedish general’s test in his very rigorous notion of field exercises, that those professors of a later era had apparently never tried to stand their ground when cavalry came at them. After they fired their shot, and needed one-third of a minute—if they were adept at the business, and didn’t get rattled—to have a second shot ready. In that bloody world where real soldiers lived and died, skirmishing tactics without breechloading rifles were just a way to commit suicide.
“So be it,” he muttered. That meant high casualty rates, of course. But it was also the reason he’d come down on the army’s side over the issue of the new Requa-pattern volley guns. True enough, the Navy could put them to good use. But for the army, they could be a Godsend. If enough volley guns could be provided for the army in time for the spring campaign, Torstensson could put together heavy-weapons squads for all of his regiments and incorporate their capabilities into his plans. That still wouldn’t allow for real skirmishing tactics, but it would go a fair distance in that direction. At least the infantry could spread out a little, instead of having to stand shoulder to shoulder and make the world’s easiest target.
“How’d the two volley gun squads do against the cavalry?” he asked.
Finally, both of the generals smiled in unison.
“Oh, splendidly,” said Torstensson. “It was almost as humiliating an experience for my arrogant cavalry captains as a colonoscopy would have been. By the way, are there enough of those devices in Grantville that I could get one for the army? I’m thinking it would do wonders for discipline.”