Sunday, 18 June 2017

Putschdorf, the First!

Wherein the army of the Burgravate of Nabstria under the command of General Heironynous von Rumpfler encounters the army of the Landgravate of Rotenburg commanded by Furst Augustus Saxe-Peste.

The reasons why the states of Nabstria and Rotenburg have developed an unreasoning hatred of each other are now lost in the mists of time.  Some say it dates back to pre-Roman times when the Nabstiri tribes were the terror of Gelderland.  Some say that the inhabitants of Nabstria suffered terribly at the hands of Rotenburg protestant zealots during the Thirty Years War. But others say that the beginning of the rift between the two states can be precisely dated to the visit by Choldwig III of Rotenburg to visit the newly married Burggrave and Burggravina of Nabstria in the heady days of peace in 1742.  It is said that the young Choldwig forgot all the manners so long drilled into his head by his long suffering tutor, Herr Docktor Schnoggesbor, and behaved not only boorishly but barbarously.  It is even rumoured that he ate every single Viennese pastry that had been created to celebrate his visit to the couple.  Whatever the truth of these rumours, one thing can be stated for certain.  Relations between Nabstria and Rotenburg have rarely been good but it has to be said that today they have descended to a level lower than a hedgehog’s nether regions.  The antipathy between the two states may have started as a personal matter between the Burggrave and Landgrave but it has grown, festered and is now shared by almost all the inhabitants of the two states. This has enabled itinerant bards and storytellers to make a good living by simply swapping the butt of their jokes and stories between a Nabstrian or a Rotenburger – depending on whether they are in the Landgravate or Burggravate.  (Most of these stories are low and crude like the most common one: “Have you heard about the Rotenburger/Nabstrian who walked into a tavern and…”)  The variations of such stories are endless but, woe betide the storyteller who forgets where he is and makes the wrong substitution.  Printers and woodcut artists in Gelderland are also able, at minimal expense, to produce a different Nabstrian or a Rotenburger edition with the substitution of a just a few words, guaranteeing higher sales and very good reviews amongst their readership.

Yet this general sense of antipathy reaches its highest form whenever the armies of the two states clash on the field of battle.  The fortunes of war have carried the Nabstrian Army deep into Gelderland, close to the borders of Rotenburg.  Soon, Saxe-Peste, with a heavy sense of destiny or perhaps just an oncoming case of dropsy, orders his army to strike at their enemy's vitals.  Just outside the small hamlet of Putschdorf, Furst Augustus Saxe-Peste, has drawn up the mighty Army of Hesse-Rotenburg, watching and waiting for the hated enemy to march straight into his trap….
Liberally supplied with his favourite Burgundy from his own special campaign cask (which travels with Saxe-Peste everywhere – one might almost say they were joined at the hip but it is less of a hipflask and more of a barrel), Saxe-Peste is confident of victory over the hated Nabstrians.  ‘We have fought these dogs on many an occasion, have we not?’ he says to no one in particular, although Captain Wankrat, his orderly tasked with the onerous task of ensuring his campaign cask never runs dry, is listening.  ‘Erm, yes, sir’ he hurriedly remembers to say.  ‘And on many occasions, we have chosen to assault the Nabstrian positions, have we not?’ Saxe-Peste continues with a serious expression.  ‘Erm, yes, sir’ Wankrat echoes.  ‘Well, this time, we shall deploy on an open field and meekly elect to defend while the damned Nabstrians waste their time with their fancy manoeuvres and foppish marches, … that damned von Rumpfler needs to be taught a lesson or two, with his uppity ways and his buxom mistress and his, …his, …his’  Saxe-Peste’s speech fades off into a silence yet fuelled by a pleasant haze of Burgundy.
‘Yes, but sir,’ Wankrat, with more urgency, presses his chief, ‘We have deployed for defence but what is your plan, sir’.  The Rotenburg army is indeed strongly deployed with its powerful force of four horse regiments on the right, with its infantry and guns anchored upon a low but formidable hill.  ‘Eh? What?, Ah, yes!  continues Saxe-Peste, ‘ So those damned Nabstrians will try their fancy manoeuvres, “ooh look at us, we can do cadence!”, mocks Saxe-Peste.  ‘But then, they’ll find out, oh yes they’ll learn that there’s something that isn’t on their effete, bloody useless Nabstrian maps!   Oh, yes, they’ll know then!  Says Saxe-Peste with a particularly unpleasant leer on his face…
‘And what’s that sir?’  Wankrat asks his commander.
‘Well, I’m not bloody telling you, am I?’  Says Saxe-Peste swaying a little unsteadily in his saddle.  ‘Bloody spies, everywhere – think I’m going to tell a bloody orderly my masterplan before a battle?  Now get off with you and find some more Burgundy, I think I’m going to need it today…’
Even as Saxe-Peste is having this not entirely coherent conversation, the Nabstrian Army marches into view…

The Rotenburg deployment: A long, long, thin line.
What could go wrong?
Meanwhile, von Rumpfler has a cunning plan of his own.  If his plan was a carpet, then it has to be said that it would be wearing a little thin by now.  As he gave the orders for the order of march of the Nabstrian Army, Hugo von Stumpe, his ADC, even had the temerity to question von Rumpfler’s judgement:
‘But sir, have we not attempted to use the oblique order on many occasions recently?  Asked von Stumpe.
‘Yes, yes,’ replied von Rumpfler, more than a little annoyed that von Stumpe was getting uppity.  ‘But the great, the marvellous point, von Stumpe, is that each time we have used the oblique order, we’ve used it against a different foe!  Unless our opponents have all been in correspondence – which I greatly doubt, those Rotenburgers don’t even know what a quill is for – we are quite safe to use the manoeuvre again!’, said von Rumpfler.  ‘And what’s more to the point, my dear von Stumpe, this time, I aim to add a variation’.
‘Oh really?’, asked von Stumpe, trying to remain interested.
‘’Yes!’ said von Rumpfler, with a note of excitement in his voice.  ‘This time we shall march our infantry against the famous Rotenburger cavalry!  They won’t dare charge our well drilled troops and we shall slowly but surely march them off the field.  Then, having outflanked the Rotenburg’s infantry, they won’t stand a chance – and voila! A Nabstrian victory, and then I can expect more honours and awards from the Burggrave!  I might even mention you in despatches, von Stumpe, as you know that I can’t actually reward you publicly for your, erm, recent services against the Vulgarians.  You do understand, don’t you, my dear von Stumpe?
‘Why of course sir’, says von Stumpe, snapping to attention.
And so the two commanders of these hated rivals have made their plans, and their troops are already in motion…battle will soon commence but who will snatch the laurels of victory?

The Nabstrian deployment: march columns. Again.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

That's not a pillow you're holding!

'It's alright, my lord Dimitri,' says the winsome courtesan, 'these sorts of failures happen to every monarch. We can just wait a while and try again.'
'No, we can't,' replies Dimitri sadly, rolling over in bed. 'We've tried twice to no great effect. Let us face up to the reality, Lola: I am a failure.'
'No, no, no,' says Lola Frumpe, the latest of the Prince's paramours. 'The failure is not yours, my lord. Surely, it is your army's. Two battles and two defeats! What, are you expected to fight the war yourself?'
Vulgarian statecraft: less diplomacy than one might
 expect; and quite a lot more nakedness
'It would be cheaper,' admits Prince Dimitri. 'But I am a lover, not a fighter. Battles seem so dangerous. And they would interfere,' he adds, rummaging under Lola's coverlets, 'with important matters of state.'
'I'm shtill here,' pipes up Vulgaria's Generalissimo, Hertz van Rentall, averting his eyes.
'Oh yes,' says the Prince, removing his hands quickly. 'That's right. You were reporting on the battle. So, to recap: we really didn't win at Hednitz?'
Rentall shakes his head. 'Not ash shuch, my lord. But, ash wid our lasht battle, our army did sheem to get better as a reshult of our defeat.'
Dimitri frowns. 'So ... as we lose, our army seems to improve?'
'It ish one of da conshequenshes of da depot shyshtem dat we have. And da Guard du Corps,' replies Rentall.
The Prince nods. 'So we're ... losing our way to victory?'
'Yesh, shir, in a manner of shpeaking I shuppose dat we are.'
'That doesn't sound quite right,' says Dimitri frowning. 'Wouldn't it be better to win sometimes? To ... win our way to victory?'

Lola begins to gesticulate. This has an interesting effect upon the coverlet that, as it is, struggles (and largely fails) to retain her modesty. Both of them. 'The fault, my lord, lies with the feeble lackwits that command your armies,' she opines, loudly.
'Shtill here,' says Rentall.
'And,' she continues, 'the pointless, pimple-brained, poodle-faced, planks that advise you.'
'I am also here, madam, 'says Count Arnim von Loon. 'Though I do appreciate the alliteration.'
Dimitri, ardently admiring Lola's modesties, suddenly wakes from his reverie. 'Well, quite, quite. But now: run along my little princess of pulchritude. For I fear that I cannot escape from some dull decision-making and such. Run along - and call in Drumpf when you leave; he is waiting outside.'
Loon groans audiably.
'Are you not an admirer of my Principal Councillor, von Loon,' asks Dimitri, sounding surprised.
Loon sighs. '"No" seems such an inadequate word, my lord.'
With a giggle and a curtsy, Lola retreats from the bedroom.
'What happened to that lovely red-headed wench, my lord?' asks Loon. 'Danila, or Daniela, or somesuch.'
'Ah, Daniela,' replies Dimitri, rapturously. 'The lovely Daniela. The lovely, bubbly, chubbly, rubbly, wubbly Daniela. Happy months. Yes, what a shame.' He sighs. 'She was just too close.'
'Ah yesh,' says Rentall sensitively. 'Too closhe. Unable, my lord, to open hershelf emotionally to you.'
'No, no,' says Dimitri. 'I mean too closely related.'
The slightly awkward silence is filled by the sound of the entry of Principal Councillor Ranald Drumpf.

Drumpf curtsies. 'Good news, my lord. As punishment for our two defeats in battle, I have sacked Lord Konstantin von Kutchenzink, Keeper of the Privy Privy.'
Loon bridles. 'But Kutchenzink has nothing to do with our defeats in battle. Actually, wasn't he investigating you for that newt thing?'
Drumpf scowls. 'No, no. These are lies put about by the liberal press.'
Rentall shakes his head. 'Dis is Vugaria. We don't have a presh.'
Loon interjects. 'Except that press for the britches. But I cannot vouch for its political views.'
'No press?' queries the Prince. 'But what about that special publication that I receive each month?'
'We import that for you, my lord,' replies Loon. 'From some quite particular sources.'
'Why don't we publish it here?' asks Dimitri.
Loon shrugs. 'Because even here, my lord, public decency laws prevent it.'
Dimitri looks puzzled. 'We have public decency laws?'
Loon nods. 'Not many, my lord, it's true. But those that we do have I think are quite specific about not allowing the things in the pamphlets that you are so fond of.'
'So where do we import such material from?' asks the Prince.
Loon says sotto voce, 'The Vatican, my lord.'
'Are dey exshpenshive?' asks Rentall with interest.
'Oh yes,' nods Loon. 'Of course. Because the subject matter means that the artists that make the woodcuts tend to go blind quite quickly.'
'Are dey a bit ... fruity?' asks the Dutchman.
'Like a banana, nestled between an especially fruity pair of melons.'
'What's a banana?' asks Dimitri.
'In truth, my lord,' replies Loon, 'I'm not entirely sure. But I had a long conversation about them some years ago with a merchant who had Caribbean interests. The details are rather hazy sir, but I distinctly remember that they were shaped in an amusingly rude fashion.'
'Like a turnip?'
'Quite probably.'

Dimitri yawns and waves his hands dismissively. 'Now, Rentall: you have delivered your report. We, and by that, of course, I mean you, must come up with a clever plan that will rescue the situation and allow me to retain my God-given position as Voivode of Vulgaria.'
Drumpf jumps up and down excitedly. 'Can we build a wall and make the enemy pay for it? A big, beautiful wall?'
'No, Drumpf,' replies Loon. 'We need an adroit, subtle plan.'
'I know!' replies Drumpf. 'We should build a wall and get them to pay for it!'
'No, Drumpf' says Loon. 'That is a silly plan. It will never work. It is madness. In fact, I suspect that a madman might reflect on your plan and say something like "Oooh, that's a bit unhinged that is."'
'I know!' says Drumpf. 'Couldn't we get our enemies to give us money, and then build a wall with it?'
Loon's lips tighten. 'No, Drumpf. Because that is the same mad plan, but in a different order.'
'I know!' says Drumpf. 'What if we built the wall, and then billed the Spasmodic Sanction?'
Loon begins to shake. 'Drumpf, if you ask about that wall once more, then I'm going to take a hammer and I'm going to take some nails and I'm going to nail your feet to the floor - how does that sound?'
Loon turns to Prince Dimitri. 'My lord. Leaving aside the Principal Councillor's plan for a moment. I think that you will find that events are already moving. The Nabstrian army has withdrawn from our lands. Even now, it would seem that a force from the Landgravate of Rotenburg is about to launch an attack upon them. As for our forces, General Rentall here (Rentall nods) has discovered that an army from the Margravate of Badwurst-Wurstburp approaches the Voivodate. Our troops march tomorrow to do battle. See, my lord: soon the dice of battle will be thrown again. I am sure that, this time, they will roll double sixes and thus allow us to roll again.'
Dimitri nods, seemingly placated. Drumpf raises his hand.
Loon sighs. 'Councillor Drumpf, You seem to have a question.'
'Yes, Have you got a hammer?'
'No.' says Loon suspiciously.
'Have you got some nails?'
'No, not to hand.'
'So,' replies Drumpf, ''Can we build a wall and make the enemy pay for it? A big, beautiful wall?'

Monday, 22 May 2017

Fort Gertrude, the Final!


If asked, the great chroniclers of history no doubt would express their considerable enthusiasm for cavalry charges. In adding to a sweeping historical tableau drama, excitement, pathos, and a splendid set of sound effects, an energetic intervention by horsemen is rarely to be bettered. A lightning storm might perhaps be nearly as good; or a comet; or a wardrobe malfunction on the part of a particularly winsome heroine; or, if one were particularly lucky, some combination of all three accompanied by some unexpected bass drums and string instruments. But generally, it is always useful to have as the close to some great military encounter the thunder of hooves, the flickering of steel, and the mad cries of horsemen, as the arme blanche rides forwards, committed as the climactic act of battle. King Friedrich II's victory over the Franco-Imperial army at Rossbach in 1757, for example, was given the appropriate panache thanks to the efforts of Seydlitz's massed cavalry. The great victory over the Turks at Vienna in 1683 was elevated from a dour punch-up the highlights of which had been trenches, dysentery, and the desultory whacking of one another with blunt instruments, by the timely intervention of the splendid German, Austrian and Polish cavalry. And even further back in history, Alexander the Great's triumph at Gaugemela in 331BC would have been much less triumphant, and probably slower and a lot sweatier, without the conclusive intercession of his Companion cavalry.

No less interesting for the historian are those events that immediately precede the cavalry charge; especially the last words of the cavalry commander: the speech that sends his men into the jaws of Death; or, if not his jaws, then some other orifice that might be just as unpleasant in its own way. Seydlitz's speech, for example, was a model of its kind, conveying certainty as to the importance of what his men were about to do; specificity regarding the chances of honour, glory, and wealth; and a careful ambivalence regarding the actual danger likely to be faced. Jan Sobieski's speech at Vienna, too, generally is considered worth studying. Though often adjudged to lack something in terms of style (thanks in part to an off-colour story about a Turk, a grandmother, and a mix-up involving an aubergine) the Pole's words to his men still embodied a fine mix of poetic metaphors, classical allusions, and a bottom joke at the end to lighten the mood. Alexander's comments sadly have not been captured for posterity, since the the wailing of the Persians drowned out the voice of the King. Nevertheless, historians have marked him well for his expressive body movements, the imperious use of the single digit being accompanied by a suitably divine waggling of the torso.

'Dammit, sir: I tell you that I've had nothing
from the mini-bar.'
All of which is to indicate just how disappointed chroniclers of the battle at fort Gertrude might well be to hear the words of the Fenwickian cavalry commander, Colonel Karl Reichardt von Laud, as a messenger urgently attempts to get Laud's hussars out of their beds, into the saddle, and into the fight. Laud's reply to the urging of the Fenwickian courier indicate that the former might not fully understand the gravity of the situation facing the Imperial forces.
'But we haven't had our lunch yet,' he says to the staff officer, fiddling urgently as he tries to do up his britches.
The staff officer looks on in some discomfort. Laud looks down and realises that he isn't actually wearing any britches.
'I distinctly remember asking for a wake up call. And some croissants,' Laud says truculently.
'The enemy are everywhere!' babbles the staff officer. 'The battle is almost lost! Only your squadron of horse remain uncommitted. I am instructed to press upon you the urgent need for an immediate foray by your horsemen against the enemy holding the high ground on the crossroads.'
'And my croissants?' asks Laud.
'I received no direct orders relevant to your croissants,' admits the messenger. 'But I should surmise that, if the enemy are not driven from the crossroads, that your croissants will be taken by the Gelderland musketeers and your stay in these lodgings rendered much less agreeable to you.'
'They are not especially agreeable at the moment,' hurrumphs Laud. 'Indeed, there was not even a little chocolate on my coverlet last night. I may be a hussar, but I'm not a savage.'
Nevertheless, since it is clear that the courier will not leave until Laud obeys the orders, the colonel reluctantly has the assembly sounded and his cavalrymen begin to decamp from their beds.

Time passes however. To the increasing frustration of all of the Fenwickian commanders, the hussars fail the most immediate of their challenges: an extended series of encounters with the door handles to their house. Finally, with the Imperial commanders soiling themselves with frustration, Laud manages to assemble his squadron outside of their lodgings and prepares for the assault. The colonel is well enough educated to know that now is probably the time for some suitable words; the opportunity for immortality, or at least a substantial footnote in future accounts of this combat. He turns to his men and delivers a speech that he hopes will instill the necessary ardour into them. Sadly, his disquisition falls rather flat. Laud mixes up his historical references and delivers an address that has as its general theme a grandmother's hand gestures, a Turkish aubergine, and Alexander the Great's bottom. Alienated by the evident failure of their commander to moderate his elevated speech so that it can be comprehended by ordinary soldiery, Laud's troops murmur mutinously. Deciding not to reinforce failure, Laud finishes his speech abruptly, and signals for an advance at the trot. (Below) In a rather ragged clump, the squadron of hussars begin their advance upon the hill crowned with Gelderland musketeers.

The hussars break into a canter. From their position with the Fenwickian musketeers, Colonel von Klosterfluck, Captain von Wiffel and Sergeant Merkin can see through the musket smoke the bold advance of the Fenwickian cavalry.
'Bravo!' shouts Wiffel, and his men also take up the shout. 'Bravo! Forward! Forward!'
'How I should have liked to have been a cavalryman,' shouts Merkin above the hubbub. 'The glamour, the danger, the long-lie ins.'
'It is overrated,' replies Klosterfluck. 'One gets sore in unmentionable places; and then one's unmentionable places get sores. And one spends one's life being chased by dogs.'
'Dogs?' asks Wiffel.
'Oh yes,' shouts Klosterfluck. 'My dog was always chasing men on horseback. Until I stopped him.'
'How did you stop him - did you tie him up?' responds the sergeant.
'Oh no,' answers the colonel. 'I just took away his horse.'
Merkin's brow furrows as he tries to work this through. Before he reaches a conclusion, the Imperial musketeers shout excitedly 'Here they go!' 

'I can see an "F". a "U", a "C", and then I think ...
it's a bit small ... is that an "R"?'

(Above) The key moment in the battle has arrived. With a loud 'Huzzah!', Laud's hussars spur their horses into the gallop. 'Tally ho!' they cry, 'Tally ho! Charge! Charge!' The Gelderland defenders finally espy through the smoke the rapid advance of the enemy cavalry! Uncertainty strikes them! Having already fired at the Imperial infantry, the troops are unloaded! The cavalry are upon their flank! The Gelderlanders murmur with fear, like short nuns at a penguin shoot. Surely all that is required for a crushing Imperial victory is that Laud's cavalry should make the merest contact with the Gelderland line! The watching Fenwickians groan with disappointment. The cavalry charge has been launched too soon! The long distance is compounded by the hussars' poor eye sight (by reason of which they are known in the Imperial army as 'cataract cavalry'). Laud's charge falls a mere sabre's length short!

Much to Toplitz-Hande's relief, as the Fenwickian cavalry halt in confusion his infantry prove their mettle by reloading and firing, and then reloading and firing again. (Above) The hussars are driven back in disorder.
'Are cavalry charges supposed to go in that direction?' asks Merkin.
Seeing the retreat of their cavalry, the morale of the Imperial infantry sags, and they also fall back. Though Klosterfluck still has another two companies of musketeers, Toplitz-Hande's troops now have an unassailable position. It is clear to all that the battle is now over, and that all that the Imperial troops can do is to begin a retreat. Fort Gertrude is taken, and northern Fenwick is now cut off!

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Fort Gertrude, the Third!

To the west, behind the fort, lies the second Gelderland objective: the crossroads. For this mission
the Bachscuttel and Gelderland troops under Colonel Adolphus von Toplitz-Hande have been specially chosen for the task. Of course, in the armies of Mittelheim 'specially chosen' simply means that the troops concerned didn't understand the mission quickly enough to desert beforehand. From the south arrive three companies of splendid red-coated Gelderland musketeers. They are supported by a company of jager, and (above) the three musketeer companies of Bachscuttel's newly-raised freibattalion von Goethe-Knockenshoppes. If the Gelderland regulars are the brave lions of the force, and the jagers the sly foxes; then the freibattalion are the hyenas, although hyenas would probably smell better and would certainly have superior drill and a firmer moral compass.
As the Gelderland force advances on the crossroads, from the west comes the first elements of the Fenwickian relief force (though quite what 'Fenwickian relief' actually entails is probably best left unexplored.) Two companies of Imperial Croats throw out a skirmish line, and (below) four companies of regulars follow. Their commander, Friedrich Oscar von Klosterfluck, seems rather dazed.

Under Klosterfluck's rather random direction, the Imperial musketeers drift into two separate forces. Whatever the officer's intent, the effect of his orders is exactly the opposite of whatever it is that is entailed by effective command and control. Two of his four companies march off confidently in a direction that may, at other times, have had some kind of sound rationale - if they were searching for an excellent site for a picnic, for example; or if they intended to avoid a particularly dangerous looking flock of geese. At this time, however, the movements of his troops are to the proper concentration of force what sanity is to the seeing of tiny invisible unicorns.
'This isn't working,' says Klosterfluck, peering blearily at the rapidly disappearing backs of half of his infantry force. 'What's happening sergeant?'

The nearby form of a Fenwickian sergeant named Merkin shrugs wearily. Merkin really hasn't that much enthusiasm for soldiering. He only joined the Imperial army in order to obtain a military rank; because in Fenwick, being known as Herr Merkin is dangerous, and probably illegal.
'Perhaps,' says Klosterfluck, 'the men don't fear me enough to execute my orders properly. I shall use my imperious, commanding voice,' he adds.
'It still seems to sound a lot like your normal voice, sir,' says Merkin.
'What about this,' says the officer, changing timbre.
'Again, sir,' says Merkin, 'like your normal voice; but perhaps just after you've sat on a snake.'
As he watches the fumbling manoeuvres of his troops, Klosterfluck holds his head in his hands. 'Tell me truthfully - am I a bad captain, Anton?' he says to the sergeant.
'My name is Walter, sir. And also, you are a colonel.'
'Dammit - really? You don't look like Walter.'
'No, sir: he probably does look different; but then again, this isn't actually your regiment, sir.'
'What? Then where am I supposed to be?'
'Well, sir. That seems to be in your hand a nearly empty bottle of absinthe. So I would say that you could be wherever you wanted to be.'
'Oh dear,' moans the colonel, and then adds, with growing trepidation, 'What time is it?'
'An hour before midday, sir.'
'Gads! I've lost eight hours!'
'On Wednesday, sir.'
'Two days and eight hours!' Klosterfluck pauses. 'And ... the year?'
'1757, sir.'
'Thank goodness!'
'Just joking, sir: it's 1759.'
'Bloody hell! My wife!'
'Expected at home, sir?'
'No, sergeant: at the church. Well,' sighs Klosterfluck, 'that was really quite some stag do.'

Trying to rescue something from the situation, Klosterfluck orders the two companies that he does have in hand to take up a position on the crossroads (right). The Croat skirmishers support them from the nearby woods. The colonel moves up and addresses the troops' commanding officer, a Captain von Wiffel.
'Captain,' says Klosterfluck, 'the plan is this - fire your muskets and defeat the enemy.'
Wiffel grimaces. 'Sir, that is a terrible plan. We're heavily outnumbered and in danger of being flanked. It isn't possible for there to be a worse plan than that plan that you've just told me.'
'Attacking them with spoons?' suggests Merkin helpfully.
Wiffel shakes he head. 'No, sergeant: that, at least, would have the benefit of surprise. This plan is madness.'
Klosterfluck looks hurt. 'Well, we could launch a bayonet charge.'
Wiffel hurrumphs. 'That's even worse, sir'.
'I return, sir,' interjects Merkin, 'to my suggestion about the spoons.'
Wiffel points to his men. 'We must retire, sir. As it stands, our chances of success are as small as a pixie's underpants; and our situation is just as tight.'

'Get on with it, captain,' growls Klosterfluck. 'I'm in no mood to be defied.'
Unwillingly, Wiffel issues the orders and his troops set to. (Above) The Imperial musketry inflicts heavy casualties upon the enemy freikorps, the lead company of which eventually is routed. However, the Gelderland commander, Colonel Adolphus von Toplitz-Hande, skilfully insinuates his regulars onto the dominating high ground, flanking the Fenwickians. From there, terrifying volleys lash the Imperial troops. Even the Croats, not known for their sensitivity, begin to feel sorry for the Imperial musketeers and shoot one of the enemy jager just to help. Still heavily outnumbered, the Imperial position seems in danger of collapse.

With the battle slipping inexorably from the Imperial grasp, messages are quickly sent to order up a squadron of von Laud's Imperial hussars. Because what situation can't be improved by the sudden application of a cavalry charge .... ?

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Fort Gertrude, the Second!

Act II

The assault column breaks into three elements. Orders are shouted, and the grenadiers wheel to the right. To cries of 'Attack!' and 'What did he say? Does anyone here speak German?'' the Bachscuttelers reach into their haversacks and hurl their grenades, and many also their bagged lunch. (Below) Then, with bayonets fixed, they assault the bastion to their front. In the meantime, the musketeers divide into two columns and attempt to cross the Fenwickian earthworks further along the line. The grenadiers initially are driven back, but their superior quality allows them to reform and attack again. In the fort itself, Captain Dreihumpe attempts to get his artillery crew to man their piece, on the reasonable basis that the lack of a cannon is likely to reduce the damage caused by the fort's artillery fire. Grumbling, the artillerymen shuffle forwards with all the enthusiasm of men invited to sit upon an exploding commode.

'Bah - they're throwing grenades; and also, who has
gherkins with their lunch?'

(Below) After a desperate fight, the Bachscuttel grenadiers drive back the defending Fenwickians. The latter fall back, yielding the bastion to the attackers. The attackers haul themselves over the undulating bulk of the bastion, a task as exhausting as trying to turn over King Wilhelm in bed when he's snoring. The Fenwickian artillerymen have continued their excruciatingly slow journey to their gun, slowed, no doubt, by discussion of vexing philosophical questions and also by their pathological fear of violence (especially when it looks like it's going to be inflicted upon them.)

(Below) The grenadiers maintain their momentum and charge again, driving their adversaries into the fort. Meanwhile, the columns of Gelderland musketeers swarm across the walls. One lead company makes a daring attack on the artillerymen. The artillerymen make an attempt to withdraw but, in keeping with the general tone of the Fenwickian performance thus far, Lady Luck not only laughs at them, but also gives them a particularly painful wedgie. The artillerymen are caught fleeing, and, without their cannon, are forced to try and hold off the Gelderland bayonets with whatever weapons are to hand. An exploding commode actually would likely be more dangerous to the enemy than the bratwursts that they wave timidly at the advancing Gelderland infantry. The one-sided nature of the ensuing combat demonstrates conclusively why it is that artillery perform best when they are actually equipped with cannon.

(Below) After another vigorous bout of fisticuffs, the grenadiers succeed yet again in defeating the garrison musketeers. The Fenwickians retire in a state of dazed confusion as serious as if they had been subject to some variety of surprise trigonometry examination. The callow fellows rout  into another bastion, seeking the nearest sedan chair that will take them away from this battle. The exhausted grenadiers give a rousing cheer, surveying that particular kind of military aftermath that comes when tightly packed enemy bodies are subjected to an attack by sharp bayonets, exploding grenades, and unadventurous packed lunches. The grenadiers have covered themselves in glory - if glory, that is, is made up primarily of intestines, brain matter, and exploded cheese sandwiches.

(Below) Now, only Captain Dreihumpe remains to resist the Gelderland interlopers, and the latter push forwards intent upon laying their hands upon him. Dreihumpe, though, is no mewling poltroon; honour, bravery, and and a large measure of really poor judgement cause him to continue his resistance to the last. Calmly, he targets the approaching mass of enemy musketeers and fires: a musketeer spins to the ground with a groan. The Gelderlanders halt, unsure. The shot, bizarrely, appears to have emanated from the area of the captain's groin. The troops waver, their limited imaginations conjuring all kinds of unpleasantness - what if all of the captain's appendages are as deadly accurate with a firearm? And, given that he appears to be deadly with unexpectedly random parts of his anatomy, what might happen when he actually fires a pistol with his hands?

'An excellent weapon, captain.'

One of the musketeers, braver than most (and also consequently the least popular), stands forth and challenges Dreihumpe.
'Come not between a Gelderland soldier and his prey,' he says, 'or he will take thee in thy place and carry thee to the houses of lamentation which, if they aren't quite as frightening on the name suggests, are still enough to put the willies up you. Sorry, I mean "thee"; or "thy." Or whatever.'
'No,' replies Dreihumpe, stoutly. 'Here I stand and here I shall remain - none shall pass!'
The musketeer looks confused. 'But there are no nuns here. Why the special focus on nuns?'
'I don't know,' says another. 'Perhaps he had a bad experience with one?'
'Or perhaps, ' adds another, 'it's actually penguins that he doesn't like but he just confuses them with nuns?'
'That's probably it,' they nod. Ignoring Dreihumpe's protests, they surge forwards. Before the captain can reload whatever part of his body he intends to fire next, he is bundled the ground and captured. The fort is taken!

At this point, dear reader, it is as well to shift our contemplation of the battle from the fort towards the nearby crossroads: there, the Empire of Fenwick's schitzkrieg reaches new lows ...

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Fort Gertrude, the First!

Resplendent with its new and somewhat larger artillery piece, Fort Gertrude stands on the banks of the River Strudel covering one of the key crossing points from the Kingdom of Gelderland into Imperial Fenwick. The peace and tranquility that reigns here on this already warm morning, however, is about to be rudely interrupted. Advancing upon the ford from the direction of Gelderland comes a large column of Gelderland and Bachscuttel troops led by Colonel Ernst Leopold von Rheinfunkt.

The combined assault consists of a seven company attack directly across the river with the intent of storming the fort before the garrison are fully alert. A second force of similar size under Colonel Adolphus von Toplitz-Hande has crossed the river by boat above the ford and is now marching to flank the defensive position and seize the crossroads behind the fort. Since, when it comes to their orders, the Gelderland conception of 'operational security' is simply to make sure that the envelope has been stuck down properly, the movements of this second force have been discerned by other local Fenwickian troops who are now hurrying to the aid of the fort's garrison. Who will arrive first?

(Below) Inside of the fort, elements of the garrison are being reviewed by their commander, Captain Stefan Andreas von Dreihumpe. The artillery crew are limbering up, threatening one another with large bratwursts.  The fort is undermanned, though the number of real men in any force of troops from Mittelheim is generally lower than their numerical strength. Dreihumpe's situation is not helped by the fact that his two companies of regular troops are bivouacked in a nearby village and not in the fort itself. A company of reserve infantry make up the immediate infantry force for the defence of the earthworks. Imperial Fenwick is a very small state, and thus the bulk of the available manpower, as well as a selection of the tougher infants and more biddable badgers, have been drafted into the field army. In consequence, Fenwick's reserve troops are composed of exactly the sort of individuals that one might expect: the weak; the unhinged; malingerers; criminals;* artists;** and those too slow or, in some cases too dead, to escape the recruiting parties.

Colonel Rheinfunkt surveys the fort from across the river, his troops screened from view by some trees. The colonel readjusts gingerly his wig, which seems to be strongly attached to his tricorne hat. Rheinfunkt suffered a nasty head wound at the Battle of Wobbling Dog Inn. This wound was, in a quite literal sense, for Rheinfunkt a mind-expanding experience, the musket ball passing through his head and costing him quite a lot of those bits of his body that protruded above his neck. The colonel however has been surprisingly phlegmatic about the incident which is useful, given the amount of phlegm his face now produces. Rheinfunkt turns to his second in command, Colonel Amadeus von Goethe-Nockenshoppes. Goethe-Nockenshoppes is an officer in the army of the Palatinate of Saukopf Bachscuttel. Rheinfunkt has seniority here because Gelderland has provided the bulk of the troops for this operation. The Palatinate's contribution consists of Goethe-Nockenshoppes newly re-equipped frei-battalion of three musketeer and one grenadier companies.
Rheinfunkt  issues his orders quickly. One advantage of his head wound is that he rarely suffers from indecision, there being little enough left between what in probability are his ears to consider even one idea at a time.
'We will form our troops into closed column. And then we will hurl them against the nearest gun bastion over there!'
Goethe-Nockenshoppes sucks his teeth. 'Actually, sir - that sounds quite dangerous - the ford is covered directly by that artillery piece.'
'Yes ... yes, you're right,' replies the Gelderlander. 'I suppose what you mean is that it would be far better to attack the gun bastion with our grenadiers whilst splitting the other six companies into two equal columns, using them to attack two further points down the enemy fortifications - thus, we might stretch the enemy defences and break their lines more easily! Excellent!'
Thank you, sir,' says Goethe-Nockenshoppes, 'Although all I actually meant was that it sounded dangerous and so we should send the men first and then we should follow up much later at a safe distance to the rear.'
'That's a given, colonel,' replies Rheinfunkt. 'That's a given.'

(Above) In closed column, six companies of Gelderland musketeers and one of Palatinate grenadiers hurry across the ford. The grenadiers head the column since they are specially drilled for missions that require a greater than usual kicking of the testicles of danger. The grenadiers are chosen from only the tallest men with the most experience; and also those that are most gullible and that don't speak German, which gives them a useful haziness regarding the actual dangers of the operations upon which they are being sent.

Like a French farce, the Fenwickian defence of the fort itself falls into three acts, though the former no doubt would display more military competence, less ladies' clothing, and more imaginative nibbles in the intermissions.

Act I

The Fenwickian sentries raise the alarm, since not even in the Imperial army can the arrival of seven companies of mystery infantry all shouting 'Death to Fenwick! Charge! Charge!' be regarded as unsuspicious. The bulk of the garrison is barracked in the nearby village. As the trumpets sound, their Lieutenant urges the troops quickly to man the fort.

(Above) 'Forward!' shouts the officer, 'Man the fort!'
'Man, that is a fort,' agree the troops. 'It's so big and brown.'
'Follow me!' he replies. 'Death before dishonour! Follow me!'
'Death before dishonour? Hmmm ... are there other options?' asks one of the men dubiously, 'Coffee before a return to barracks? A brisk walk before a tasty lunch?'
'Look death or dishonour obviously aren't the only options,' points out the Lieutenant reasonably. 'I think what I'm trying to indicate is that, as the enemy seem to have arrived in force; and we are enrolled in the Imperial army; and we are tasked with defending the fort in front of us; that we should consider it a strong possibility that our duty is to prevent the enemy from taking the fort rather than just buggering off.'
'Fair enough,' reply the men. 'But "death before dishonour" rather ladles it on a little thick, don't you think?'
'Forward!' replies the officer. 'We are almost certainly contractually required to employ our weapons for the purpose of the defending the fort! Follow me!'
Despite the Lieutenant's best efforts, however, and despite the fact that their accommodation is, rather like their commanding officer, old, worn out and leaking in improbable places, the troops seem surprisingly reluctant to exit the houses. Their painfully slow perambulation across the battlefield begins to have dangerous consequences as the Gelderland assault column splashes across the ford ...

* Except unlicensed sellers of fruit and vegetables: according to laws promulgated by Fenwick's Ministry of Fruit, Vegetables, and Public Morality, such miscreants generally have their carrots twisted and/or their plums squashed.

** Except mime artists: even in Fenwick, with its perennial shortage of manpower, such charlatans are shot; though, in a welcome attempt to be humane to the mime artists, the sentence is carried out as quietly as possible.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Fort Gertrude!

The Imperial engineer, Major Dougal Entendre, stands in one of the gun positions of the newly constructed Fort Gertrude. With him is the commander of the fort, Captain Stefan Andreas von Dreihumpe.
'Try again, laddie. Look carefully, captain,' Entendre is saying to Dreihumpe, 'and tell me what is wrong with this gun.'
Captain Dreihumpe peers intently at the  gun for a long time, his face working itself back and forth like King Wilhelm's belly at a royal dance. 'Is the gun ... the wrong colour?'
'Nae captain,' says Entendre, slowly. 'The problem I think that we face here is that yon cannon in front of us is only this high,' he says placing his hand at the level of the barrel. 'Whereas the embrasure for the gun is this high,' he says placing his hand rather higher. 'And that means that ...?'
'It's well protectetd from enemy fire?' says the captain hopefully.
'Yes,' says the engineer patiently. 'Yes it is. But don't you think laddie that it's also likely to reduce the range of the cannon somewhat?'
'Oh. Oh yes,' says the captain, nodding. 'It is likely to cut it a tad.'
'Yes,' says the engineer. 'And by a tad, I think that we could guess reliably that its range would be reduced from, say, around 800 yards with round shot, to about,' he measures with his fingers, 'six inches.'
Dreihumpe contemplates the situation glumly. 'Now I think about it,' he says, 'I can see that that might prove to be challenging for the gunners. If they tried to fire a round of canister they might do themselves a bit of a mischief.'
The engineer nods. 'Aye, if by "a mischief" ye mean that they might blow their own limbs off then I think yev diagnosed the problem correctly.'

'So what might be the solution,' continues the engineer slowly as if to a small and, characteristically for Mittelheim also very inebriated, child. 'If this gun is too small for the embrasure then we could do what?'
'We could ... we could ...,' replies the captain, searching Entendre's face for some small hint to the answer, 'we could ... lower the height of the bastion?'
'Aye,' says Entendre, 'but that might take a great deal of time and effort, as well as wearing out my patience, breaking my temper, and requiring ye to take a great deal of time convalescing from the pistol shot to yer head.'
'Pistol shot to my head?'
'Aye, yes - to be more specific: my pistol shot to yer head.'
'So, if we don't lower the height of the bastion, then we could ...?'
The captain pauses for a moment, thinking very hard indeed - suddenly, he brightens. 'We could get a bigger gun!'
Entendre smiles broadly and also discretely returns his pistol to its holster. 'Excellent idea, captain. Give the orders!'
A larger gun is duly installed. This, as it turns out, is fortuitous because for the Fenwickian garrison the next day turns out to be dry, sunny, with a good chance of some intermittent Gelderland assault columns ...