1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 35

She paused, doing some quick calculations. By now, after the sieges of Amsterdam and Dresden and the seizure of Silesia, Gretchen was quite well versed in military affairs. “The soonest you could invest Krakow would be toward the end of next month, husband–and that places you in full winter.”

“December winter,” Jeff said. “Not January or February. And the march isn’t really that big of a risk, Gretchen. If the weather’s really rough, we just won’t do it. But December’s not usually too bad and the distances involved aren’t bad either. It’s a little less than one hundred and twenty miles from here to Bytom, as near as I can figure it. The Hangman Regiment can make that in a week. And we’ve still got all of our winter gear from the assault on Dresden.”

That much made sense. It was true that the Hangman–all the regiments in the Third Division–had a reputation for marching quickly. And Bytom was within that part of Silesia which the Bohemians had seized. According to Bravnicar, there was even a small Bohemian garrison there. The Hangman wouldn’t have to fight to take the town and if winter did then close in on them, Jeff and his men could shelter in Bytom. The residents would hate it, of course, having to billet troops in their own homes–especially since it was not a big town. But the population was mostly German, not Polish, so there wouldn’t be any armed resistance.

“All right,” she said. “Go on.”

“From Bytom, it’s only sixty miles to Krakow. Unless the weather is bad, the Hangman can make it there in two days.”

“That’s awfully fast, even for a forced march. There is almost bound to be snow on the ground by them.”

Jeff shrugged. “You might be surprised at how much ground the Hangman can cover, when we push it. Don’t forget that moving one regiment is a lot easier than moving an entire division. But, fine, figure on a three-day march–if you insist, make it four days. By seventeenth-century standards, that’s blitzkrieg, Gretchen.”

Lightning war. It was a German phrase, so Gretchen understood the literal meaning. And unlike most people of her time, she’d read enough up-time history to understand the reference.

“I will give you all that. I will also allow that you can probably seize Krakow. But… Jeffrey, if you take Krakow–Krakow; it’s still officially Poland’s capital, you know–you will surely bring down one of the Commonwealth’s major armies on your head. A coalition of the great magnates, at least, if not the royal army. You can’t possibly withstand that! Not once spring comes. So you will just have to retreat back to Silesia. What is the point of it all?”

Jeff now grinned, to her surprise. What was her idiot husband doing, grinning like that? Had he gone mad?

“On our own, no. But the Hangman won’t be fighting on our own. To begin with, we’ll have the forces you’ve assembled here in Lower Silesia along with us. That adds another–what? Two thousand men?”

“You most certainly will not!” she said. Her voice was a bit shrill. “I am the Lady Protector of Silesia, my beloved but idiot husband. “I am not the conqueror–conqueress, whatever–of Lesser Poland!”

His grin seemed fixed in place. Apparently, he had gone mad. “You won’t have to worry about protecting Lower Silesia. When the time comes–it’s all been planned out already–Heinrich Schmidt will bring about half the SoTF’s National Guard into Silesia. Those are good troops. Not as good as the Hangman, but they’re as good as any provincial army in the USE. Plenty good enough to shield Lower Silesia, given that the Poles and Lithuanians will be preoccupied with Lesser Poland.”

Utterly, completely mad. “So what?” Her voice was now definitely shrill. “Add all my forces to yours–we’re still talking about less than four thousand men. Even great magnates on their own can assemble an army twice that size.”

“Three times, we figure. We’re expecting somewhere between twelve and fifteen thousand men coming against us. In the spring, of course; they won’t be able to move that many men in the winter.”

She stared at him. Krakow was a fortified city, true–but the fortifications dated back to medieval times. It was not protected by seventeenth century trace italienne star forts designed to withstand artillery.

Jeff’s grin now became a smile, and a rather gentle one. “Relax, hon. I’m not suicidal. We won’t be on our own. Morris Roth will join us, with his army. Which has the ridiculous title–brace yourself; Wallenstein came up with it–of the Grand Army of the Sunrise.”

She kept staring at him. Her mind was now fluttering around. Morris Roth–he was a jeweler. Also the hero of the Battle of the Bridge, yes, but… Grand Army of the Sunrise?

“How many men does he have?” she demanded.

“A little over four thousand. The infantry hasn’t been tested yet, but the cavalry is very solid. His army is also well-armed and we’ve–the Hangman, I mean–got the new H&K rifle, the .406 caliber Model C. We’ve got mortars, too, good ones, which the Commonwealth troops won’t be very familiar with. We’ll be a lot better armed that they are, we figure.”

Gretchen broke off her stare. For a moment, she looked out of the window. She had finally realized that this scheme was not something her idiot husband had cooked up on his own. Emperor Gustav Adolf had to have been part of the planning–it might even be his plan to begin with.

Her mind had stopped fluttering and was now working as well as it usually did. The logic was coming into focus. Keep Torstensson and his two divisions pinning the Polish king’s army in the north, around PoznaÅ„. Move half of the SoTF National Guard into Silesia, to anchor it. They weren’t needed any longer to defend the Oberpfalz against Bavaria. Then form an alliance with the Bohemians to drive a spear into Lesser Poland. Take and hold Krakow. The Bohemians would get the corridor they needed to expand into Ruthenia and–

“Have you talked with the Galicians yet? If you don’t have them with you serving as the official face of the occupation, taking Krakow will stir up all of Poland. You’ll be stirring things up even with them, because foreigners are involved.”

Jeff shook his head. “Not yet. But Rebecca’s flying out there as soon as Red tells us they’ve got an airfield at Lviv. We’re pretty sure they’ll go in with us. They’d be crazy not to, since otherwise they’d have to face a magnate army on their own. We’re not sure how many men they could bring, but we figure it’d be at least two thousand. We’ll probably–no, almost certainly–still be outnumbered, but not by that much. And like I said, we’ll be a lot better armed.”

And a lot less well-organized, she thought. Talk about a polyglot army! USE regulars, Vogtland guerrillas, Silesian amateurs, Slovene cavalrymen–professionals and veterans, yes; but there weren’t a lot of them–joined to a Czech army of good cavalry but inexperienced infantry commanded by a jeweler whose only combat experience was the very circumscribed engagement on the Stone Bridge in Prague–and for the final touch, a ragtag force of Galician rebels. True, many of them would be former hussars and some of them would be Cossacks. Fierce fighters and probably just as fiercely undisciplined.

“You’re going to need me,” she said.

“Sure are,” said Jeff. “Wearing that famous armor of yours. I can’t wait to see you in it.”

She ignored that and looked down at her son. Larry was asleep again. He looked like a cherub.

She was not bringing a cherub into a theater of war.

“I will have to take Larry back to Dresden, so he can be cared for there,” she said.

“Yeah, that’s what I figured,” said Jeff. “But look at it this way. We already have a good governess for Wilhelm and Joe, and it won’t be hard to find a reliable wet-nurse.”

Idiot husband. “I will still need to do it quickly. A week or two, not two months or more. Which means–“

She looked at him accusingly. “I will need to fly again.”