1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 40

Chapter 19

Bavaria, on the Amper river

Two and a half miles east of Zolling

Lt. Colonel Jeff Higgins was staring down at the reason his regiment had not gotten in radio contact with divisional headquarters.

His radio specialist, Jimmy Andersen, still had his hands clutched around his throat. Lying on his back just outside the entrance to the radio tent, in a huge pool of drying blood. His eyes looked like a frog’s, they were bulging so badly.

“Jesus wept,” Jeff whispered. Some part of his mind knew that — if he survived this day himself — Jeff would be weeping too, come nightfall. Jimmy Andersen had been one of his best friends since…

He tried to remember how far back. First grade. They’d met in first grade. They’d both been six years old.

It was obvious what had happened. Jimmy had heard the gunfire, come out of the tent to investigate — not even a radio nut like Jimmy Andersen would have sent a message before doing that much — and a stray bullet — dear God, it had to been almost spent, at that distance — had ruptured his throat. The last two or three minutes of his life would have been a horror, as he bled out while choking to death. The only slight mercy was that he’d probably fainted from the blood loss fairly soon. From the looks of it, the bullet had nicked the carotid as well as severing his windpipe.

A freak death. But they were always a feature of battles. It would have probably happened right at the beginning, when the initial Bavarian charge allowed them to come within a hundred yards of the radio tent. Right now, the enemy cavalry had pulled back a ways and the front line — such as the ragged thing was — wasn’t close enough any more for a bullet to have carried this far.

What had happened to the assistant radio operator? Jeff looked around but didn’t see him. He’d probably just run off, panicked by the surprise attack and the still greater surprise of seeing his immediate superior slain like that.

“Should I contact HQ, Colonel?” asked one of Jeff’s adjutants. That was…

Jeff’s mind was foggy and this was one of the new recruits to the regiment. It took him two or three seconds to pull up the fellow’s name.

Zilberschlag. Lieutenant Jacob Zilberschlag. He’d been commissioned just two months earlier, and was the first Jewish officer in the division. Probably the first Jewish officer in the whole USE army, for that matter. Mike would have made a place for him.

More to the point, Zilberschlag was one of the few officers who knew how to use a radio.

“Yes, please, lieutenant. Get General Stearns. I need to speak to him — and quickly.

While he waited for Zilberschlag to make contact, Jeff shook his head in order to clear his brain. He had no time right now to let Jimmy’s death fog up his thoughts.

The situation was… stable, sort of, but that wouldn’t last long. The Hangman Regiment had been caught by surprise and battered bloody, but they’d held together long enough to survive the initial clash. Their one bit of good fortune was that they’d only been fighting cavalry and they’d never broken and run. Routed infantry got slaughtered by cavalry, but if they could stand their ground it would be the cavalry that eventually broke off first.

Yes, the fighting had been one-sided but not that one-sided, especially after the first five minutes passed and the regiment was still hanging together. The Bavarian cavalry had taken something of a beating too. A bruising, at least.

Jeff could see the river, not more than twenty yards away. The enemy cavalry had pulled back a few minutes ago. That almost certainly meant that they’d been ordered to cover the infantry who’d now be crossing over the from the south bank — right where Captain Finck, bless his miserable special forces black heart — had suggested would make a good place for an army to do that.

Which meant the Hangman Regiment had to retreat. Now. Fall back a third of a mile or so, however far they had to in order to link up with the 1st Brigade.

He looked back down at his old friend’s corpse. He’d have to leave it here. There was no time for a burial party. Hopefully, they’d be able to retrieve Jimmy’s body later. Or if the Bavarians wound up in possession of the field, maybe they’d bury him.

But Jeff didn’t think they’d be in possession, when everything was said and done. Tonight, maybe. Not tomorrow, though.

The Bavarians had caught them flat-footed, sure enough. The Third Division’s commander had screwed up, no doubt about it. But that was all over and done with — and the battle was just getting started.

Jeff’s money was on Mike Stearns. Fuck Piccolomini and Duke Maximilian and the horses they rode in on.

“General Stearns wants to talk to you, Colonel.” Zilberschlag now had the radio case mounted on his back. He came over, handed Jeff the old-style telephone receiver and turned his back so Jeff wouldn’t have to stretch the cord.

“Yes, sir,” Jeff said.

What kind of shape are you in, Colonel?

“We’re pretty beat up. I figure we’ve lost…” Jeff tried to estimate what the regiment’s casualties had been. That was bound to be guesswork at this stage. He also knew from experience that casualties usually seemed worse than they were until all the dust had settled and a hard count could be made of those who were actually dead, those who were wounded — and, of those, how many were mortally injured, how many would recover fully and how many would have to return to civilian life. It always surprised Jeff a little how many people came through what seemed like a holocaust completely uninjured. He’d done it himself in several battles now.