1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 20
Then, to Stefano: “Cut the engines for a bit.” The noise made by the four lawnmower engines made talking on the radio impossible, and Tom didn’t want to fall back on laborious Morse code communication. One of the nice things about airships was that the wallowing beasts could just float for a while.
Tom’s reports were brief and to the point, and would produce very rapid results. Now that he knew the city was undefended and the two naval rifles were no longer a factor, Schmidt would march his National Guard directly into Ingolstadt. They should have the city under control within a day or two.
Meanwhile, since his maneuver had succeeded in its purpose, Mike Stearns would redirect the Third Division to the south. There was no chance he could reach Ingolstadt in time to intercept the retreating Bavarians, so he would move to invest Munich as soon as possible.
As for Tom himself, Stearns ordered him to remain behind in Ingolstadt and get the naval rifles salvaged as soon as possible.
“They’ll have spiked all four guns, General,” he told Stearns. “And if they did a competent job, we’ll need to machine them out.”
“Yes, I know. I’ll have some machinists detached to you. There would have been plenty in Ingolstadt, butâ€¦ not any longer.”
The Bavarians would have either murdered them or — more likely, unless the commander was totally incompetent — taken them in captivity down to Munich. Skilled metal workers were valuable, especially in time of war.
“I should be able to get two of the guns in operational condition fairly soon,” Tom said. “But the two in the river will probably take quite a bit of time.”
“I understand. Stearns out.”
Before they even got to the bridge, Tom could see the Bavarian forces passing across to the south bank of the river. Their formations seemed pretty ragged — so ragged, in some places, that they couldn’t really be called “formations” of any kind. This didn’t look like an orderly retreat so much as a semi-rout. At a guess, the Bavarian commanders had tried to organize a disciplined withdrawal but had gotten overwhelmed — at least partly — by panicking soldiers.
He was guessing again, but he was fairly sure the mercenaries in the 1st Battalion had been the ones driving that panic.
“Do we bomb the bridge, sir?” asked Captain von Eichelberg.
Tom shook his head. “No, Bruno. It’s temptingâ€¦”
Which it certainly was. The bridge was packed with enemy soldiers, who were barely moving because the bridge itself formed a bottleneck. As targets went, you couldn’t ask for anything better.
“But what if we succeeded too well and brought down the bridge? Or damaged it enough to make it impassable. We want the Bavarians out of Ingolstadt, we don’t want to pen them into it.”
“I understand that, sir.” von Eichelberg’s voice had a trace of exasperation in it. “But there’s little chance these bombs we’re carrying would be powerful enough to do that.”
He had a point. They weren’t carrying incendiaries because of the risk of starting fires in Ingolstadt. The USE and SoTF forces wanted to capture the city as intact as possible. So they were armed simply with anti-personnel ordnance — what amounted to giant grenades.
“You’re probably right, but I still don’t want to risk it. Besides, the troops strung out on the road are almost as good a target.”
He pointed further to the south, to the narrow road along which most of the Bavarian soldiers were moving. “Head there, Stefano. We’ll see if there are any artillery units we can target.”
As Stefano complied, Tom turned to von Eichelberg and said: “I suppose we ought to come up with some more military-sounding order than ‘head there.’ You’re the old pro. Do you have a suggestion?”
The captain squared his shoulders and looked very martial. “In the finest old professional soldier tradition, I hereby — what’s that American expression — pass the back?”
Tom chuckled. “Pass the buck.”
“Yes, that one. This being one of those — what do you call it? — upward technology weapons — ”
“Close enough. I feel it is incumbent upon the up-time officer to develop the proper phraseology. Sir. I would just make a hopeless muddle out of the project.”
“That’s some pretty impressive buck-passing, Captain.”
“I do my best, Colonel.”
Once it became clear that the oncoming airship was targeting his unit, Captain von Haslang ordered his men to abandon the guns and move off the road into the neighboring fields. There was no point losing soldiers as well as equipment. The airship would pass over them too high for musket fire to be effective. His own guns, designed for the purpose of shooting at them — he’d learned that the up-time term was “anti-aircraft fire” or “ack-ack” — would have been able to reach them. Quite easily, in fact. But the guns were clumsy to deploy and effectively impossible to aim. There was no chance he could get them ready in time to fire on the airship. It would arrive overhead within a minute or two.
So, none of his men were killed. One was injured, not by enemy fire but by tripping over something and spraining his wrist in the fall.
As for the gunsâ€¦
Happily, they came through mostly unharmed. The bombs dropped by the airship were rather large but had been designed as anti-personnel munitions. Shrapnel that would kill or mutilate a man did mostly cosmetic damage to cannons. Even a small two-inch gun weighed more than a quarter of a ton.
Several of them were dismounted, of course. Two of the carriages were ruined and would need to be replaced; half a dozen more would need to be repaired. But that was simple carpentry work, and there’d be plenty of carpenters in Munich.
Von Haslang finished his inspection and looked up at the sky. By now, the enemy airship was more than a mile away, headed toward Regensburg.
“Bastards,” he heard one of his artillerymen say.
“We’ll have our chance at them soon enough,” the captain said in response. “They’ll come to Munich, don’t think they won’t.”