1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 54


He turned to Eric, who had also dismounted. “Take the 19th Battalion to the closest gate, which is…”

He thought for a moment, bringing up the map of the city in his mind. He had it well enough memorized not to have to haul it out of his saddlebag. “That way,” he said, pointing to the northwest.

“How far away is it?” asked Eric

“It shouldn’t take you more than ten minutes to get there.” Krakow in this day and age wasn’t a big city–about one mile north to south and half that distance east to west. Jeff didn’t know exactly how far away the nearest gate was, but it couldn’t be more than three hundred yards. Of course, that was the distance as the proverbial crow flew. The battalion would have to make its way through the city’s convoluted streets, which would take some time, especially if they faced opposition from the city’s defenders.

Krenz smiled. “Don’t need a horse for that.” He handed the reins to the nearest courier and trotted off, shouting orders as he went. It would take him at least ten minutes before he got the battalion organized. Men were still swarming over the collapsed walls and they’d have to be reorganized into coherent units.

Jeff had to do the same with the 20th Battalion, working with its commanding officer, Major Casper Havemann. The major was new to the job, having recently been promoted to replace the former commander, who’d himself been promoted to serve as one of the regimental commanders for the new divisions being trained by Thorsten Engler. But Jeff let Havemann do most of that work while he concentrated on other matters. The man didn’t have much experience yet commanding a battalion, but he had plenty of experience getting troops in order.

First, Jeff called the rear battery and order them to come into the city. Then, he called the forward battery and gave them firm–you might almost say blistering–orders to fire at their longest range for another five minutes and then cease and desist and come into the city.He was going to be leading the 20th Battalion right into the center of Krakow and the last thing he needed was for his men to be dodging their own mortar fire.

Finally, he called Eddie. “Okay, Eddie. Go get Krzysztof.” He forgot to add “over.” Jimmy would have chided him for the lapse.

Will do. But I’ll have to refuel first–and I’ll be running low on fuel again by the time I get back. Over.

“Understood. As long as you get back before sundown, we’ll be okay. Out.”

He turned to another of his couriers. As antique as the custom of using couriers might be when it came to communication, the fellows made dandy gofers. “See to it, Lieutenant Vieck.”

They’d already planned for this in advance. It was politically imperative that before the day was over, a notable Polish figure was present as the official leader of the forces that had captured Krakow. Thankfully, they’d have several hundred Polish soldiers from the Silesian units to surround him with. It would still be obvious to anyone who came near that most of their forces were German and Czech. But by the time word could spread through the countryside–much less reach Warsaw–they should be able to fuzz things up enough not to trigger off an outburst of Polish national resentment.

It helped that they’d brought with them a large number of the newly-designed flag of the soon-to-be-proclaimed Democratic Assembly of Lesser Poland. It was similar to the national flag, in that it had a broad red stripe beneath a broad white one. The existing flag had at its center the combined Polish and Lithuanian coats of arms surmounted by a gold crown. The flag of the Democratic Assembly kept the coats of arms but eliminated the crown and placed them inside a gold eight-pointed star. The star was quite prominent, large enough to make it easy to distinguish from the existing flag in the middle of a battlefield.

By the end of the day tomorrow, Jeff intended to have the flags flying from every one of the thirty-nine towers and eight barbicans on the walls of Krakow. He’d have to have a pole erected on the rubble of the barbican they had passed through, of course.

A thought occurred to him. Since he still had a few minutes before the 20th Battalion would be ready to begin the charge toward the central square, he summoned one of the radio operators. The radio squad doubled as the regiment’s tech unit. “Who’s the regimental photographer, Corporal Ollinger?”

The corporal’s chest swelled. “I’m the regimental photographer, sir.”

“Have your camera ready, then. We’ll use it tomorrow.”

What a splendid picture that would make! They could have half a dozen men raising the flag atop the rubble of the barbican, duplicating the U.S. Marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima. Of course, there’d have to be one change, since they couldn’t very well use USE troops in their feldgrau uniforms. But they’d planned for that, also–not the flag-raising bit, but seeing to it that the Polish militia organized in Breslau by Lukasz Opalinski had their own distinctive uniforms. They were rather flashy, too, albeit not in hussar league. No ostrich plumes, no leopard skins.

“Colonel Higgins.” Jeff turned and saw that von Mercy had arrived. He must have dismounted and clambered over the rubble.

“General von Mercy.”

“What is the plan now?”

Jeff pointed toward the 19th Battalion, which Eric Krenz had gotten into formation and was starting to file down the street leading to the nearest barbican. “They’ll take the next gate to the northwest and open it for you. Meanwhile, I’ll take the 20th battalion into the city’s center. If all goes well, we should have the town hall and the Cloth Hall seized by the time your cavalry arrives.”

“Good,” said von Mercy, nodding his head. “That should eliminate the problem of coming under sniper fire once we get into the square. Reduce it, at least.”

He turned to go; then, paused and looked back. “My compliments, Colonel Higgins. It’s always a pleasure to serve with an officer who doesn’t get flustered when his plans come unglued. Which they almost always do.”

Off he went. Jeff allowed himself a few seconds–maybe half a dozen–to bask in the praise of a veteran cavalry officer. A general, no less.

But it was time, now. He was leaving one company behind to keep working on clearing away the rubble that blocked the gate. With the other three companies and the artillery unit attached to the battalion, he thought he’d have enough to take the two buildings in Krakow’s central square. If worse came to worst, they’d just wait until the rear battery came up and started bombarding the buildings.

Hopefully it wouldn’t come to that. Raising a flag over the rubble of a barbican would make a dandy propaganda image. Raising a flag over the rubble of Poland’s most famous town hall would not, unless you were Attila the Hun.

One of the couriers brought up his horse. Jeff waved him off.

This was a charge down city streets, damnation. He did not have to ride a horse. There were limits.

He would have to wave the sword, though. Dutifully, he drew it from the scabbard, held it on high, and began striding down the street that led–hopefully–to the central square.

“Follow me!”

It was stupid protocol, but… The sound of hundreds of men marching right behind him demonstrated once again that there was a reason for military customs. Better stupid than dead.

“War sucks,” Jeff muttered.