1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 60
Mike spent a minute or so considering the situation. Ideally, he’d wait until von Taupadel had moved his brigade far enough around Zielona Gora to cut the road to Poznan. But that could take quite a bit more time. They’d come by a circuitous route, following the Bobr river and then marching cross-country in order to approach Zielona Gora directly from the west. The easier route would have been to follow the Odra, which would have brought them close to the city. But, of course, the Poles had planned for that and built fortifications guarding the river.
The problem that Mike was now presented with was that the road to Poznan started on the northeast side of Zielona Gora. The 1st Brigade had to march almost two-thirds of the way around the city in order to reach it. If Mike waited until they got there, the Hangman Regiment might get destroyed in the meantime.
He decided the chance they might encircle and capture all the Polish forces in Zielona Gora just wasn’t worth the possible cost to Higgins and his men. That had always been something of a long shot, anyway.
He turned to Long. “Colonel, we’ll send the Third Brigade directly into the city. Let Duerr take the word to Brigadier Derfflinger.” Mike pointed to some nearby woods. “He’s in there, taking care of urgent business.”
Long frowned. “If it’s urgent business, he may be occupied for a while yet.”
Mike smiled. “He should be finishing up any second now. It’s the sort of pressing business that never makes its way into fiction.”
After a moment, Long chuckled. “I see. And myself?”
“I want you to get in touch with von Taupadel. I want him to forget about reaching the Poznan road and just go straight at whatever part of the city he’d closest to right now.”
Long was back to frowning. “It’ll take me some time to reach him, General. By the time I do –”
“Radio,” Mike said. “Use. The. Radio.”
He turned in his saddle and pointed back to his communications tent, which had been set up twenty yards away. Jimmy Andersen was standing outside the entrance flap, looking lonely and forlorn.
“Sergeant Andersen will operate it. He knows what he’s doing. So goes Brigadier von Taupadel’s radio operator, if he hasn’t died of neglect and boredom yet.”
Long stared at the tent much the way a man might stare at an ogre’s lair.
“The, ah, radio, sir?”
“Use. The. Radio. Now.”
Duerr went straight to the radio tent as soon as he got out of the woods. Oddly enough, given his age and acerbic temperament, Duerr was more at ease around electronic technology than most younger officers. Within five minutes, all three brigade commanders had gotten their orders.
A minute later, the artillery barrages began. Ten minutes later, even at a distance of half a mile, Mike could hear the sounds of infantry regiments advancing on the city.
“About fucking time,” grumbled Jeff Higgins. He and two of his captains were crouched over a map inside a small bakery. They’d been trying to figure out if there was any route that might extricate them from what had essentially turned into a trap. Unfortunately, the map was in as bad a shape as the regiment was by now. Being fair to the regiment, Jeff was sure that map had been lousy even in its prime.
Within thirty seconds, the noise produced by the artillery barrage made it impossible to talk anyway. Jeff signaled the two captains to return to their units. All they could do now was wait.
After it was all over, Mike’s aides estimated that about half of the Polish forces who’d been defending Zielona Gora had made their escape to the northeast. The failure to cut off the Poznan road had allowed for that.
But von Taupadel didn’t make more than token noises of reproach. Except for the Hangman Regiment, the division’s casualties had been light. Much lighter, he said, than was usual for an army taking a city as sizeable and as well-defended as this one had been.
“A good day’s work, General,” was his summary conclusion. “Very good day’s work.”
“I thought we’d need three days myself,” said Derfflinger.
“So did I,” chimed in Schuster.
The three brigadiers were giving Mike an odd sort of look. That expression stayed on their faces for the next half hour, too. After they left, he asked his aides if they’d noticed.
Duerr grinned. “They’ve decided you know what you’re doing.”
“Not exactly that,” said Anthony Leebrick. “Meaning no disrespect, General Stearns, but you’re not the subtlest military strategist the world has ever seen and your tactics are not what anyone would call complicated.”
Long was grinning also. “You go here and hit them. You go over there and hit them too. Then both of you do it again.”
All three officers laughed. Mike couldn’t help but join in for a moment. It was true enough, after all.
When the laughter died out, Duerr shook his head. He wasn’t smiling anymore.
“None of that really matters, General. Your brigadiers have come to the conclusion that the three of us came to some time ago. You are never indecisive and you are always willing to take the fight to the enemy. In war, that is what’s most critical.”
Long nodded. “Taking this city so quickly, coming on top of what you did after Swiebodzin. They have confidence in you now, General. They may not agree with your decisions, certainly. Von Taupadel obviously thinks you moved too soon and should have let him take the Poznan road. But those sorts of things do not really matter, so long as they have confidence that their commander will command.”
Mike was not a egotist, but he enjoyed compliments as much as any human being does. He wasn’t able to savor these, however. Right now, there was only one opinion that really concerned him.
He found Jeff Higgins lying on a cot in one of the back rooms of a somewhat battered but still intact bakery. Jeff didn’t seem to be injured, just resting after what had been a nerve-wracking and exhausting day.
When he saw Mike come in, he started to get up, but Mike waved him back down.
“Relax, Jeff. This is an informal personal visit.”
Jeff lay back down on the cot, propping his head on folded arms. After a short silence, he frowned and said, “I’m trying to figure something out. Did you set me up?”
The frown was simply an expression of puzzlement, not anger or condemnation.
Mike took off his cap and ran fingers through his hair. “I wouldn’t put it that way, exactly. But, yes, I did use you as what amounted to bait in a trap.”
Jeff thought about that, for a few seconds, staring up at the ceiling. Then the frown faded and he let out a little sigh.
“About what I figured. Did it work?”
“Sure did. We took the town in one day with light casualties — except for your regiment, that is. I’ve been told that’s pretty unusual by people with a lot more experience at this than I have.”
“Rough on the bait, though.”
“Yes. It was. And I knew it would be when I sent you in.”
Jeff lowered his eyes and looked at him. “You should have told me what you had planned, Mike. That’s the only thing that pisses me off. But it really does piss me off. The Mike Stearns I used to know wouldn’t have manipulated me like that.”
“Fair enough. I won’t do it again.”
Jeff chuckled, in a dry sort of way. “Yeah, you will — and plenty of times. It’s not like I don’t understand why you do stuff like that, Mike. Just don’t do it to me.”
There was silence again, for perhaps a minute. Then Jeff sat up on the cot, swiveling his legs so his feet were on the floor.
“What now, boss?”
Mike shrugged. “Gustav Adolf just told me to take Zielona Gora. I don’t think he expected we’d do it this soon. I sent him a radio message earlier but I haven’t heard back from him yet.”
“Hey, maybe we’ll draw garrison duty for the rest of the war.”
“I wouldn’t count on it.”
Near the Warta river, northwest of Poznan
Wojtowicz’s agent came into Stanislaw Koniecpolski’s command tent, which had been pitched close to the river. It was more in the way of a pavilion, actually. Like the great magnate that he was, the grand hetman traveled in style even during wartime.
“Another message had arrived from Jozef,” the agent announced. “And it’s good news this time.”
He gave the hand-written message to Koniecpolski.
Big storm coming. May last for days.
“Finally,” he said. He turned to his aides, who half-filled the tent. “I want the army moving by dawn tomorrow. There’s a Swede who needs killing.”