1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 42

Chapter 20


Six miles east of Zolling

“It’s clear, Colonel Engler,” said Alex Mackay, getting down from his horse in front of Moosburg’s Rathaus. The city hall, as was the case in almost all German towns, was located on a square. Quite a small square, in the case of Moosburg. As if to make up for it, the Rathaus was a rather imposing edifice, three stories tall with a square tower rising up another fifteen feet or so in the middle.

“The whole town is clear.” Mackay pointed to the east with a gauntleted hand. “I’m not certain, but I think the Bavarian cavalry the Pelican spotted came from across the river and have now returned to the south bank of the Isar. It’s wetlands below the confluence with the Amper, but from the looks of it, I think if you went a mile or so above the confluence, maybe even half a mile, you’d find a decent place to ford the Isar.”

“You’re right,” said Thorsten. “We just got word over the radio. That special Marine unit that scouted the area said there’s a ford right above the confluence where cavalry and flying artillery can cross without any aid. They think infantry and artillery would be better if we laid down a corduroy road, though.”

Alex had removed his hat in order to wipe his brow with a sleeve. Thorsten’s last words arrested the motion, however.

“We?’ he said, sounding a bit alarmed.

Thorsten grinned at him. “I hate to be the one who has to pass this on, Colonel Mackay, but our instructions come directly from General Stearns. Major General Stearns, you may recall.”

Mackay jammed the hat back on his head without ever wiping his forehead. That minor discomfort had clearly been quite forgotten, in light of this new and profoundly horrid forecast.

“Don’t tell me. We have to secure the ford — and then we have to build that wretched corduroy road.”

Engler’s grin felt as if it was locked in place. “And it’s gets better — for us, not you. General Stearns’ orders were for the flying artillery squadron to set up in position to repel any possible cavalry attack while –”

“The puir downtrodden cavalrymen have to get off their horses and engage in manual labor.” Mackay’s Scot brogue, normally just a trace after so long on the continent, was easing back into his voice along with his disgruntled mood.

“Indeed so.” Thorsten spread his hands, in a placating gesture that would have placated absolutely no one, forget a professional cavalry officer.

“Fuck you and the horse you get to keep riding on, Thorsten,” said Mackay. “A profound injustice is being committed here.”

Bavaria, Third Division field headquarters

Village of Haag an der Amper

The radio operator looked up from his notes. “Colonel Engler reports that the ford has been seized and that his squadron is setting up a defensive perimeter while the cavalry prepares the crossing for infantry and artillery.”

“And in such good cheer they’ll be doing it, too,” said Christopher Long. The smile on his face fell short of outright evil, but by a hair so thin that only a theologian could have split it.

Duerr chuckled. “Cavalry hate being impressed as combat engineers.”

“Speaking of which…” He turned toward Mike Stearns, who was pointing out something on the map to Brigadier Ludwig Schuster, who commanded the division’s 2nd Brigade.

“General Stearns, pardon me for interrupting, but where do you want our combat engineers to be and doing what?”

Stearns glanced up and then pointed at Schuster. “I want them — all of them; Mackay’s cavalry can lay down a simple corduroy road and screw ’em if they can’t take a joke — to go with Ludwig. He and his whole brigade should get to the ford above Moosburg and be able to cross it by nightfall.”

Duerr hesitated — but challenging his commander was his job, when he thought a mistake was being made. Thankfully, Stearns didn’t react as badly as some generals did to being questioned. Not badly at all, being honest about it.

“Is that wise, sir? If von Taupadel and the Hangman — which is already pretty bloodied — can’t hold back Piccolomini, you’ll have no reserve at all.”

He nodded toward the entrance of the tavern. The door had been propped open — more precisely, had been smashed open and was now hanging by one hinge — partly to let in some air and partly so the staff officers inside the headquarters could monitor the fighting that was starting to rage further up the Amper as more and more of Piccolomini’s troops crossed the river.

“I have to say I agree with him, General Stearns,” said Schuster. “Let me leave the Lynx Regiment behind.”

Stearns’ brow was creased with thought. Duerr had no difficulty understanding the issues he was weighing in his mind. On the one hand, the Lynx was a solid regiment and its commander, Colonel Erasmo Attendolo, was a very experienced professional soldier. If Derfflinger did wind up needing reinforcement, they’d be good for the purpose.

On the other hand, the Lynx also had something of a reputation for being fast and agile — at least as infantry regiments went. They weren’t what anyone would call “foot cavalry,” but they could move faster than any other regiment in the division except Carsten Amsel’s Dietrich Regiment.

Which, by no coincidence, Mike had already ordered to be the first infantry regiment to cross the Isar above Moosburg, as soon as Mackay’s cavalry had the corduroy road in place.

Ulbrecht Duerr had now served under General Stearns for almost a year — and it had been a year in which Duerr had seen more combat than in any of the previous years of his long career as a professional soldier. That was partly because his new commanding general was without a doubt the most aggressive commander he’d ever served under.

That aggressiveness could be a problem, sometimes. Stearns would always tend — to use an American idiom — to “push the envelope.” He’d take risks that skirted outright recklessness, as he had at the Battle of Ostra, when he ordered the Third Division to attack the army commanded by the much more experienced General Báner in the middle of a snowstorm.

He’d won the Battle of Ostra — and decisively. That same aggressiveness had now got him into trouble, though, when he’d advanced on Piccolomini without having adequate reconnaissance. But he proposed to turn the tables on the Bavarians by continuing to be aggressive, not by pulling back. He’d hold them in place with one of his brigades and the wounded but still fighting Hangman regiment, while he crossed the rest of his army to the south bank of the Isar — and would then march them downstream a few miles and cross back onto the north bank somewhere above Freising.

If it worked, the Bavarians would find themselves in a very difficult place. Stearns would now have most of his army between Piccolomini and Munich. He could go on the defensive and force Piccolomini to take the risks involved with offensive operations. And Piccolomini would have very little time to make his decision because he had more than enough cavalry units to know that Heinrich Schmidt’s National Guard of the State of Thuringia-Franconia had crossed the Danube from Ingolstadt and was coming south as well.