1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 77:



Chapter 28





            “I’d recommend we include Nils Krak’s men, too,” said Frank Jackson. “They’re all dragoons as well as sharpshooters, and with their rifled muskets they should give the Thuringian Rifles whatever extra support they might need. We can only send one squad of the Rifles with the combat team.”


            John Chandler Simpson was half-amused and half-irritated at Jackson’s stubborn insistence on using the up-time phrase “combat team” to refer to the special combined arms force they’d be sending as an escort for the ironclads, as they made their way downriver to Hamburg. They’d all agreed that sending the ironclads without a land escort would be foolish. As powerful as the war machines were, there were just too many ways in the narrow confines of a river for the enemy to set traps. It could be something as simple as obstructions in the river bed that required the ironclads’ accompanying service craft to pause for a bit, while the crews removed the obstacle—easy targets for snipers firing from the river banks. In much the same way that a main battle tank working its way through the narrow streets of a city needed infantry support, so long as they were on the river the ironclads did as well.


            The problem—tiny, tiny problem—was that the down-timers had no fixed terminology to use for most such military purposes, just as they tended to use terms like “lieutenant” and “captain” in a very loose and fluid manner. That didn’t bother Simpson much, but it drove a former sergeant like Frank Jackson half-crazy. So, once he got on Torstensson’s staff, Jackson had insisted on developing precise terminology.


            The Swedish general had been willing enough to accommodate him, in principle. But, alas for Jackson, Torstensson insisted on picking the actual terms. And after Simpson had casually mentioned that the sort of combined arms land force they were putting together, as a temporary unit for a specific task, had a different term in the up-time German tradition than the American “combat team” appellation Jackson proposed, Torstensson had chosen it instead. He thought it sounded better.


            So, “battle group” it was to be—but Jackson wouldn’t budge from using combat team instead. Granted, no one who knew the man could accuse Frank Jackson of being xenophobic, especially after they met his Vietnamese wife Diane. But in many ways, the former coal miner’s American chauvinism was so unthinking and deeply ingrained that it was impossible to uproot. In that respect, very unlike his long-time close friend and former union associate Mike Stearns, who was generally quite cosmopolitan.


            Fortunately, the Swedish general whom Gustav Adolf had placed in overall command of the USE’s military seemed more amused than anything else by his American adjutant’s recalcitrance.


            “Of the two other squads,” Jackson continued, “one of them is in Luebeck and I’m assuming”—he cocked his head toward General Torstensson—“that you’ll want to keep the third squad in reserve, for whatever you might need them for.”


            “Whatever Gustav Adolf might need them for,” Torstensson grunted. He smiled thinly. “Or are you foolish enough to think the king will let me remain in command after he’s broken the siege?”


            Admiral Simpson half-scowled. “He certainly should.


            The young Swedish general shrugged. “Yes, perhaps. But there is not much chance of it, John, as you well know. I will do my best to restrain him from personally leading any cavalry charges. Even there, I can make no promises.”


            Simpson was tempted to pursue the matter, but it would be pointless. For good or ill—and it was sheer irresponsibility on his part, as far as John was concerned—Gustav Adolf was one of those monarchs who insisted on leading his men on the battlefield. Perhaps the only such monarch left, in this day and age, although there were several princes who’d do the same. Quite capably, in some cases, as the Spanish cardinal-infante had so graphically demonstrated in the Low Countries over the past six months.


            He decided he’d do better to save whatever few bargaining points he had left—he’d already used up most of them, he figured—to try to get Colonel Christopher Fey’s force beefed up a little.


            “Frank,” he said, clearing his throat, “please don’t take this as any sort of implied criticism of either Krak’s people or the Thuringian Rifles. But the fact remains that I don’t think they’re enough, by themselves.”


            Jackson frowned. “They aren’t by themselves. I’m assigning two volley gun batteries to the combat team.”


            “Yes, I know. But that’s still not enough, if they run into a large cavalry force that’s willing to accept some casualties. Don’t forget that the only unit that’ll have repeating breechloaders will be the one Thuringian Rifles squad commanded by Sergeant Wilson. That’s not more than—what?—a dozen men?”


            “Ten men and two women, to be precise,” said Jackson. His expression made it clear that he wasn’t too happy about the last part of that equation.


            Neither was Simpson, for that matter. On this subject, if not many others, he and Frank Jackson were generally in agreement. Fortunately, it was not a problem Simpson had to deal with much himself. Since the Navy had been formed later than the army and drew most of its personnel from the Magdeburg area, John had been able to resist—sidestep, at least—letting any women into the combat units. The pressure for that had come almost entirely from up-time women in Grantville, and had naturally focused on the army and the air force.


            Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Colonel Wood smiling a little. There was just a hint of derision in that expression. Oddly, given that he was such a dinosaur in so many other ways, Jesse Wood didn’t seem to have any reservations about including females in combat positions in the Air Force.


            The smile was a bit irritating, but Simpson didn’t rise to it. He was certain that if Wood had to command people who’d spend months at sea together instead of a few hours in a plane, he’d change his tune quickly enough. John’s reservations about having women in combat units didn’t stem from the same simple paternalistic traditionalism—call it male chauvinism, if you insisted—that lay behind Jackson’s opposition. Nor did it result from Simpson’s assessment of the martial capabilities of women. Except for units—mostly infantry—whose job required a considerable degree of muscular strength, he thought women were just as capable of killing as men were. More capable, in some instances. If he’d had any doubts, all he had to do was examine Julie Sims’ track record.


            No, the problem was that they got pregnant. Something that couldn’t be managed without incredible acrobatics in the two-seat cockpit of a small airplane could be managed quite easily on a ship. And a state of pregnancy that posed nothing more than a minor nuisance on an army or air force base could be a real headache on a ship that couldn’t return to port for months on end. True, that wasn’t a problem he’d face in his ironclads, since the things were only marginally seaworthy. But Simpson was already looking ahead to the next generation of warships for the USE Navy. Those ships would be faster than any sailing ship of the time, but they would still wind up spending a year or more away from their home ports. Months at a time, at sea.