1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 37

“That spot’s east of the confluence between the Amper and the Isar. We’d wind up on the wrong bank of the Isar and have to find a place to cross back over again.”

Duerr nodded. “True.” He glanced up at the ceiling of the room they were in, as if he could see through it to the sky beyond. “The Pelican can be back by nightfall and can lay over until tomorrow. We’ve made a landing place for it. When we move out in the morning we’ll have excellent reconnaissance until they have to return.”

Mike shook his head. “I don’t want to wait, Ulbrecht. I want to keep pushing on, since we still have most of the day left.” His own finger tapped a place on the map. “By sundown — well, allowing for enough time to bivouac — I want to be here. This village called Attenkirchen.”

Christopher Long tugged at the point of his beard, which was another of the Van Dykes so popular at the time. Mike, who favored a full beard cut short, had never been able to see the logic of the things. Maintaining a proper Van Dyke required almost as much work as being clean-shaven. Why bother?

“I recommend against that, sir. Attenkirchen is a good six — maybe seven — miles south of here. We can certainly make it there by nightfall, in this weather. But we’ll be too far away to maintain the security of the Pelican‘s landing site — and it will be much too late in the day to set up a new one.”

Duerr chimed right in. “Which means the Pelican will have to continue operating out of Regensburg, and we’re getting close to the limit of its operating range unless we provide it with a new secure base.”

Mike tried not to let his impatience make him irritable. The more time that passed, the more convinced he became that Bavaria was a distraction, a side show. Yes, Duke Maximilian of Bavaria had a lot to answer for. But the cold, hard fact remained that by now Bavaria had been stripped of most of its former power. In any event, that power had always been heavily dependent on Bavaria’s alliance with Austria — which Maximilian had shredded with his maniacal response to the flight of the Austrian archduchess who had been supposed to marry him.

And, meanwhile, the Turkish armies were marching through the Balkans toward Vienna. That, in Mike’s opinion, was where their attention ought to be focused. Instead, practically all of the military power of the nation was tied up fighting either the Poles or the Bavarians, neither of whom posed an existential threat to the United States of Europe. Whereas the Ottomans might, if they could take Vienna.

And the problem there — again! you’d think people would have learned by now — was the damned American history books. Suleiman the Magnificent had failed to take Vienna in 1529, and the up-time history books said the Ottomans would fail again when they tried — would try; might try; could have would have tried; the grammar got insane — again in 1683.

Half a century from now, in another universe — as if that provided any guidance for what should be done today, in this universe, under these conditions.

As bad an influence as the American history books could be, Mike sometimes thought that the influence of American technology was even worse. As witness the reliance his officers were placing more and more on the reconnaissance provided to them by the Pelican.

Yes, the airship made a superb observation platform. Much better than airplanes, really. A plane had to spot something while speeding through the air with only one or two pairs of eyes; an airship could effectively hover in place, allowing several observers to take their time examining the landscape below through binoculars and telescopes.

But the damn things had such limits! They burned so much fuel just keeping the envelopes filled with hot air that they could only stay in position for a short time, unless an advance base was created for them. And the problem there was that the craft were so huge and unwieldy that it took time to build a base for them — and then you had to detach a sizeable force to guard the base. Not to mention that they were all but useless in bad weather.

All of Mike’s experience as a fighter — first as a prizefighter, and now as a commander of armies — was that if there was any one secret to winning a fight it was to be relentless. Hit ’em and hit ’em and hit ’em and hit ’em. Don’t stop, don’t rest. Push on, push on.

The boxer he’d tried to model himself on when he was in the ring was Rocky Marciano. And while Mike had never thought he had Marciano’s talent, he did have the man’s temperament as a fighter. Never let up. Once you start, keep on. Hit ’em and hit ’em and hit ’em. If you can’t knock them out, wear them down for a while — and then knock them out.

Never let up.

Of course, you had to be strong and in very good shape and be able to take a punch, for that strategy to work. But Mike had all of those qualities and he thought his Third Division did as well. Most of all, he was profoundly distrustful of allowing time to go by in a fight. Yes, yes, it would be nice to have excellent reconnaissance at every waking hour. Why not wish for orbital satellites while you’re at it?

“No,” he said firmly. “Piccolomini just took over command of the Bavarian army less than a month ago — and he’s only had a few days — well, a week or so — to integrate the forces retreating from Ingolstadt. Granted, he’s got a lot of experience and a good reputation, but he’s not a magician. His C2 is bound to be a little ragged.”

“C2” — he’d pronounced it Cee Two — was an Americanism that had by now spread throughout the USE’s military. It stood for “command and control.”

Duerr and Long were both giving him looks that might fairly be described as fishy.

“So is ours, General Stearns, as many new recruits as we’ve got,” said Long.

He had a point. This campaign against Bavaria was coming on top of the Third Division’s campaign in Saxony and Poland, followed by a march to and back from Bohemia to fight Báner outside Dresden, followed by a march from Saxony to Regensburg. They’d fought their first big battle at Zwenkau in August — less than nine months ago. That had been followed by the savage fighting at Zielona Gora in October and the big battle of Ostra in February. And here they were, just four months later, readying to fight yet another major battle.

They’d lost a lot of men in the process, some of them killed, more of them injured, and a fair number just leaving for quieter pastures. Some of them did so by the rules, but most of them just deserted. There was no great social opprobrium attached to desertion in this day and age.

Because of its reputation for paying regularly, keeping the soldiers well-equipped and well-fed, and winning victories, the Third Division had no trouble finding new volunteers to replace the men they lost. In fact, the division was technically over-strength, at almost thirteen thousand men, because of its success at recruitment.

But that came at a cost. To a degree, the Third Division was constantly recreating itself as it went.

“I’m more concerned about our weakness when it comes to cavalry,” said Long. “I understand your frustration with the Pelican‘s limitations, sir. But even reinforced with Mackay’s men, our cavalry is terribly understrength. That allows the Bavarians to use their superior numbers in cavalry to overwhelm our own, which –”

“Enables them to move their troops without us being able to spot them,” Mike finished for him. “Yes, I know that, Christopher.” He ran fingers through his hair, resisting the temptation to tug at them with frustration. “The ideal solution would be to have another airship permanently attached to us that could rotate with the Pelican. But we’re stretched too much. If only –”

He shook his head, shaking off the pointless wish that Gustav Adolf would come to his senses and end the war with Poland. Being fair to the emperor, even if Gustav Adolf was willing to make peace it was doubtful at this point that King Wladyslaw would be. Part of the reason for the never-ending rancor between the USE and Poland was that the two nations were ruled by two branches of the same Vasa royal family — both branches of which were firmly convinced the other was a pack of scheming bastards who couldn’t be trusted. Not for the first time since he’d arrived in the seventeenth century, Mike was reminded of his native state’s own reputation for stupid feuding.

Hatfields and McCoys, meet Vasas and Vasas.

“One of these days,” he said, “the new hydrogen dirigibles will come into service. That’ll help, because they’ll be able to stay up a lot longer.”

He looked back down at the map and placed his finger on the spot marked Attenkirchen. “Here, gentlemen,” he said firmly. “By sundown. The Pelican will be fueled up and ready to go by sunup, so they’ll be here early in the morning.”

And then they’ll have to leave again in half an hour or so. But he didn’t see any point in adding that. Life was what it was. You fought a war with the army you had, not the one you wished for.