Four Days On The Danube – Snippet 10

          That would have been true even in summertime. In midwinter, hauling big guns across the countryside would be extraordinarily taxing on men and animals alike. As it was, they were lucky there’d been no large snowfalls for the past few weeks. A moderate snowfall had struck Thuringia and Franconia a few days ago, but it hadn’t come this far south. The roads would be icy but still manageable for lighter field guns.

          Tom managed to quell them soon enough. In the meantime, artillerymen less subject to madness went about the business of getting the six-pounders ready to go. Within twenty minutes, they were done.

          It took another fifteen minutes to load the wagons available with as much ammunition as possible. Begrudgingly, Tom set aside three of the wagons to carry enough food for a couple of days. Three, if he imposed tight rationing. He hated to cut back on ammunition since they might be in for a lot of desperate fighting soon. But it would be foolish to assume he could get any supplies from the countryside until they got a fair distance from Ingolstadt. Once he was well into the Oberpfalz, he was confident he could obtain supplies from local towns and villages. The province was loyal to the USE and hostile to Duke Maximilian. It also had a large and active Committee of Correspondence.

          He also decided not to take the artillery’s main radio. The device was powerful enough to transmit in voice anywhere in central Europe, at least during the evening window. But it was inoperative at the moment, due to a minor problem of some sort, so he couldn’t use it tonight. The radiomen assured him they could get it fixed within a day or two, but the radio was too heavy to carry except in a wagon, because of the batteries, and on the fragile side. It would slow them down and might break again anyway.

          They didn’t really need it. He’d bring a small Morse-code-only radio that could be carried in a backpack. With one of those radios, he could transmit a brief signal to Bamberg that would tell Ed Piazza and Heinrich Schmidt everything essential. They’d have the bulk of the State of Thuringia-Franconia’s National Guard on the march within twenty-four hours.

          He also took the company’s walkie-talkie. He’d been in such a rush that he’d forgotten to tell Rita to take the unit he kept in their home. He could only hope she’d thought of it herself.

          For a moment, his fears for his wife surfaced, chittering for his attention. Savagely, he drove them under. He had no time for that now. The Bavarians could launch a counter-attack at almost any time. He was pretty sure the only reason the enemy commander hadn’t already gotten one underway was because many of his soldiers were running wild, as often happened when a city was being sacked. Especially in a night attack, where maintaining control was harder than usual.

          The inhabitants of the city were going to pay a savage price for the 1st Battalion’s defection tonight. But there was nothing Tom could do about that, so he pushed the matter out of his mind also. For now, at least. In the future, hopefully, there’d be a reckoning — and it would be a harsh one, if he had any say in the matter. He had no use for the duke of Bavaria and even less use for traitors who took his silver.

          The commander of the artillery battery came over to him. That was Captain Martin Kessler, from the Thuringian town of Langenwolschendorf. He was accompanied by the two infantry captains, Geipel and Fischer, and Bruno von Eichelberg. Tom had been pleased to see that the young captain from Brunswick had remained faithful to his oath. Von Eichelberg’s company of mercenaries was undersized, barely a hundred men, but they were veterans. Between them, his artillerymen, and the two companies from the 2nd Battalion, he now had well over five hundred men under his command.

          “We’re ready to go, Major,” said Kessler. “We’ve spiked all the guns we’re not taking and the big radio is destroyed. Are you sure about leaving the food and gunpowder, though?”

          Normal practice, in addition to spiking the guns — better still, if they’d been next to the river, pitching them in afterward — would have been to destroy all the food and gunpowder they were leaving behind. But the only quick way to do that was to blow up the powder or set the whole barracks on fire, and the artillery barracks were right inside Ingolstadt. Nothing but city streets separated them from residences and places of business. Tom didn’t think the food and gunpowder was important enough to kill citizens of his own nation in order to deny it to the enemy.

          If he hadn’t been so pressed to get out of the city quickly, he would have had the gunpowder casks opened and the contents spread all over the foodstuffs. Then, for good measure, soaked everything in water, wine and any other liquids available. That wouldn’t completely destroy either, but it would go a long way in that direction and certainly create a time-consuming mess for the Bavarians to deal with. But they were just too short of time.

          “No, we’ll leave them as is.” He fought down the urge to look around for himself. Unless junior officers gave you reason not to trust them, you had to take their word for things like this or you’d undermine morale.

          Instead, he just nodded. “Let’s go, then. Bruno, what’s the situation at the gate?”

          Shortly after the fighting started, a few squads of artillerymen had seized the nearby gate that led out of the city walls to the east. That had been easy enough, since the gate was held by a platoon of still-loyal soldiers. As soon as Tom had driven off the enemy besieging the barracks, he’d ordered von Eichelberg to send most of his mercenaries to bolster the gate’s defenders.

          “Everything’s quiet, sir,” replied von Eichelberg. “According to the last report, at least.”

          That report would have been carried by a mounted adjutant. There were a handful of them attached to the artillery units. The USE army still didn’t have enough radios to provide them to many units smaller than battalions, unless they had special duties like the artillery. Most down-time officers weren’t really comfortable with the gadgets, anyway. So almost every unit larger than a company had at least one mounted adjutant ready to serve as a courier.

          Tom motioned for the radio operator to come over to him. “Let’s go then,” he said.

          It would take a few minutes to get hundreds of men with their wagons, guns, and other gear moving. Tom had enough time to send a message to Bamberg.

          The radioman unlimbered his equipment. Once he was ready to start transmitting, Tom gave him the message:


          Bavarians over-running Ingolstadt. Colonel Engels murdered. City cannot be held. Withdrawing what remains of regiment into countryside.

          He wondered if there would be ever be a follow-on message. There was no way to know yet. Within a day or two, Tom and all of his men might share the same fate as the colonel who had once commanded them.

          Well, no. Whatever else, they wouldn’t be murdered in their sleep.