1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 25

Chapter 8

Ottoman airfield

Formerly Racetrack City

Just east of Vienna

Murad IV was a big man, so he satisfied himself with looking into the narrow armored space rather than trying to climb into it. “And it will withstand the Jooli?” he asked the engineer at his side.

The engineer’s name was Özil Demirci. He belonged to the Ottoman Empire’s Cebeci Corps, one of the branches of the Topçu OcaÄŸi, their corps of gunners. It was being expanded by Murad to support the new weapons. The cebeciyan were the armorers who made and maintained guns as well as almost everything else used by the artillery.

Özil had been in Murad’s service long enough to learn that whatever anxiety he might have about the young sultan’s reaction, the most foolish thing to do was to lie to him–or even fudge the truth too much.

“The problem is not the Jooli, My Sultan. It’s the type of gun she will be using.” He leaned into the gun turret and rapped his knuckles against the steel sheet that formed one of the walls. The sound produced was tinny, not solid. “I am confident that if she uses the same type of gun I believe she used at Linz–and her shot does not strike the armor head on–that this will be enough to deflect the bullet. But if she uses a more powerful gun…”

He spread his hands as if making a presentation of something. “Our airships will only carry so much weight, My Sultan. As it is, this light armor leaves only enough lifting power for a skeleton crew, one janissary and an assistant, two guns and some ammunition. Adding thicker armor would only deduct from the mission’s very purpose.”

Now he pointed to the firing port at the front of the turret. Like everything about the turret, the design was simple, even crude. The two thin steel sheets that formed the walls of the turret were angled toward each other but they did not join. Instead, a gap of about fifteen inches–what the Ottomans called an ayak–had been left, allowing the shooter enough space to aim his rifle. “And you understand that even with a normal rifle, if the Jooli’s aim is good enough, and she fires from the right angle, she will be able to kill our man.”

“And by all accounts, the monster’s aim is that good,” said Murad, nodding. He looked at Özil and smiled. It was a thin smile but not an unfriendly one. “Do not call her ‘she,'” he commanded. “The Jooli is just a monster. My janissaries will be disgruntled if I order them to go into battle against a mere woman.”

“Yes, My Sultan.” Özil thought most janissaries were idiots, so he was not surprised that they would not care to hear the truth. So be it. They would be the ones to have their brains spilled by the woman-who-was-not-a-woman, not he. Özil designed the gun turrets. He was not the one who would be manning them in a vessel no one had even dreamed of until a few years ago.

Why should it be a wonder that such a vessel would have a woman as its jinn?

“How soon can you finish the rest of the turrets?” asked Murad.

“They should all be ready within twenty days, My Sultan.” He nodded toward the hangar entrance. “Sooner, if I could have more workmen.”

“No. Building as many hangars as possible is the priority, or we will lose too many airships over the winter.” Murad straightened up from his examination of the turret’s interior. “It is too late in the year to launch a major assault on Linz, so there would be no great advantage to destroying the Jooli now. We will deal with her–deal with the monster–come the spring.”

Özil had expected that answer. There had already been a snowfall three days before. Just a short flurry that soon melted, but it was a portent of what was to come. The sultan would need to order his men out of the siege lines soon, so they could retreat to Vienna before winter really set in.

The assault on Linz would have to wait until spring. By then, even with just the two workmen Murad had provided him, Özil could have all the Sultan’s airships fitted with the gun turrets.

All the ones that survived the winter, at any rate. The hangars were so huge that no matter how many men Murad threw at the work, they couldn’t possibly get enough of them built for all the airships. Some of the airships would have to make it through the winter–try, anyway–just tethered to masts.

Some would fail to do so, that was a surety. Even the airships sheltered in the hangars were at some risk. The hangars were sturdy enough not to collapse after a heavy snowfall, but they had no doors. They were shaped like the top half of giant cylinders planted on the ground, with both ends open to the wind and the elements. That should be fairly safe given the mild winds in this part of Europe, but…

The winds were usually mild. There could always be an exceptionally powerful storm, and if it was mighty enough some of the airships would be battered apart inside the hangars.

But that was not Özil’s problem. He just had to have the gun turrets ready for the assault, and he had months to do it in. From there, come spring, it would be up to the airship crews and the janissaries in the turrets to destroy the monster so an aerial bombardment could clear the way for the sultan’s army.

He fully expected several of those janissaries to die in the opening battle. He’d heard depictions of what the Jooli had done to the fleet that had tried to bombard Linz two months earlier. But he didn’t like janissaries anyway. Arrogant bastards, they were.

Airship hangar

Chiemsee (Bavarian Sea)


Julie Mackay (née Sims) was not a particularly big woman. Somewhat on the stocky side, muscular–but she was no more than five and half feet tall. So she had no trouble at all clambering into the newly-installed gun turret on the Magdeburg and giving it a slow and careful inspection.

It helped, of course, that the turret was a lot bigger than the ones the Ottomans were retrofitting into their airship gondolas. The Magdeburg was a much bigger airship than anything the Turks had built–or even could build, for the moment. It never paid to underestimate the industrial capacity of the enemy empire. The Ottomans had great resources, personal as well as material and financial. But it was just a fact that their technology was in most respects less advanced than European technology–and had been even before the Ring of Fire.

The Turks handled that challenge much the same way the Soviet Union in World War II had handled the disparity between its level of technological development and that of its enemy, Nazi Germany. The USSR had concentrated on making crude but workable–above all, reliable–machines and weapons of war, and then making a lot of them.