It is fair to say that Mittleheim has added little of significance to European military history. A clash was recorded with raiding Mongols in 1420 - but what Mittelheim chroniclers described as 'a vicious struggle against appalling odds' was described by a foreign observer as 'a bit of a rum do one Tuesday morning.' Amidst cries of 'Leave it Wilhelm, he's not worth it', local Gelderland militia retreated quickly. The Mongols eventually retired, but were reportedly so appalled by the conditions in Mittelheim that they tidied up before they went, and left some money and also a bar of soap. Then, of course, there was Mittelheim's participation in the Great Northern War: a four-year campaign in alliance with Russia, most of it spent trying to assemble some captured Swedish furniture. But all of this changed at the village of Chestwig. In a battle that would make the later clash at Zorndorf between Prussia and Russia look like a pillow fight in a nunnery for especially soft girls, the forces of Nabstria and Rotenburg set to and tore the bloody guts out of one another.....
May 1758. The first blow is struck in the War of the Spanish Suck Session. Furst Augustus Saxe-Peste leads the Rotenburg army in a rapid march towards the Gelderland capital city, Gross Schnitzelring. Approaching the village of Chestwig, however, his path is blocked by the Nabstrian army under General Gerhard von Rumpfler. The Nabstrians are clearly up for it and the Furst recognizes that battle is in the offing.
Elite Nabstrian scouts confer: 'No, that's left.'
Furst Augustus has the initiative, the Nabstrians having been thoroughly out-scouted. The Nabstrian commander, General von Rumpfler, sighs wearily, as his scouts report finding some trees, a big badger, and a large army in Nabstrian uniforms. Furst Augustus takes advantage of the Nabstrian passivity and elects to attack, making use of a newly arrived unit of mercenaries. Through his spy-glass, the Furst surveys the Nabstrian deployment.
(Below, from the top) General von Rumpfler has covered the open ground on his left flank with all three regiments of his cavalry. His mounted arm is commanded by Paul, Duke of Clarkeshire. In the woods, where hopefully no one will find them, are his two regiments of light troops. In his centre, he places both batteries of his artillery and a regular regiment in line: a second regiment, in column, is placed in reserve.
The Nabstrian deployment
(Above) But it is on his right that von Rumpfler places the weight of his forces. In Chestwig itself he deploys one of his elite regiments (in white, Infantry Regiment No.5). His six other infantry regiments are deployed around the village: three in line and three in column. The latter includes the Burgavial Garde du Corps (in white, green facings) Once the Rotenburger's are committed to the attack, Von Rumpfler hopes to use those three columns to advance to the right, from behind the village, and then envelop the flank of the Rotenburg forces.
The Rotenburg deployment
(Above) Furst Augustus deploys his troops for his attack. His extreme right comprises all four of his cavalry regiments. His centre comprises seven infantry regiments, deployed in two lines. In reserve, the Furst deploys the Landgravial Lifeguard (white flag). The Lifeguard comprises an elite body of men: vigorous; clean-limbed; a body of troops so brave that they know no fear; in truth, so badly educated that they know almost nothing at all. The Inhaber, Graf Peiper, has lavished funds upon the regiment: resplendent in mitred helmets and outsized iron Kurlandian codpieces, the troops appear giants in every department. On Augustus' left, facing the village of Chestwig, he places both batteries of his artillery, supported by his mercenaries (in blue).
'It's the boots isn't it: is blue too much?'
(Right) As an added incentive to seize Chestwig, the Furst spies through his telescope the winsome form of General von Rumpfler's, er, neice, a delightful seamstress by the name of Nora Hindquarters. Spending the morning of the battle in the bathtub, the poor lamb is subjected by the Nabstrian staff officers to tiresome and predictable 'Where's the soap?' jokes; they receive in return a stern invitation to 'sud off'. Also present is Von Rumpler's aide-de-campe, Hugo von Stumpe, sporting a new uniform in a lovely lemon, which, coincidentally, is a handy point of comparison for his intellect. The aide-de-campe's garish attire has led his sniggering comrades to note that, clearly, some aides are camper than others.
Morale in the Rotenburg army is less high than one might think, given its stout performance in the late Cod War. The source of difficulties are emerging concerns regarding the mental condition of Furst Augustus. Though exhibiting no obvious physical signs of cognitive distemper, the Furst's slow waltz to loondom seems manifest in his initial plan of battle; a plan which accords a decisive role to his artillery. The Furst intends for his cannons to shoot the Nabstrians out of Chestwig, following on with a massive infantry assault. There are mutterings in the camp that the Furst's crazed notion that his artillery might contribute meaningfully to the outcome of the battle can be attributed quite clearly to a bad case of 'little imps in the head'. Eschewing the recommendation from a physician that he should be hit over the head with a shovel to let all of the little goblins out, the Furst finally agrees to take a couple of leeches every four hours. Otherwise undeterred, Furst Augustus gives the signal for his artillery to open fire on Chestwig: the battle has commenced!
With a sound more akin to a rattling cough than a roar of cannon fire, the bombardment commences. It becomes clear, however, that the notion that the Nabstrians can be shot out of Chestwig is about the weakest plan since King Priam's comment at the seige of Troy: 'A giant wooden horse, you say? Seems reasonable, let's wheel it in.' As the Rotenburg gunners leaf in bemused fashion through worryingly pristine instruction manuals, their fire expends itself harmlessly against the walls of the village. Matters get even worse. (Below) Recognizing that his initial plan is less likely to work than a member of the French nobility, Furst Augustus changes to Plan B: the infantry assault. Like Landgrave Choldwig's nocturnal fumblings, however, this enterprise finishes before it even starts. Von Rumpfler orders his artillery to open fire on the advancing enemy infantry. Inconceivably, the Nabstrian artillery is deadly accurate: in a few short volleys, one of the Rotenburg infantry regiments disintegrates under artillery-fire and the advance grinds to an uncertain halt.
Discarding Plan B as a sad bag of spanners, Furst Augustus switches now to Plan C: a cavalry attack against the Nabstrian left. With four cavalry regiments against three, the Rotenburg cavalry thunder forwards, waving their stirrups about in a menacing fashion (below).
Full of confidence, the Rotenburg chivalry surges forwards. But, if Plan B sucked, it would appear that Plan C both sucks and blows. As is usual at this point, one of the Rotenburg cavalry regiments becomes confused and, peeling off from the assault, trots towards the woods, keen, no doubt, to take in the local flora and fauna. With the numbers evened out for the crucial cavalry clash, the odds, too, are levelled when it transpires that the Nabstrian horseman also have some impressive stirrups that they can throw into the fray. Paul, Duke of Clarkeshire, commands the Nabstrian horse. Eschewing his silly little hat and garish hussar uniform, he has dressed for the occasion in finest buff moleskin. All agree that he looks splendid except, perhaps, the moles. His presence instils new confidence in his nearby cavalry.
(Below) After repeated charges, accompanied in each instance by desperate sword-play, the fight is close but the Rotenburg horse is finally driven back, one regiment fleeing the field. With his cavalry weakened and vulnerable, Furst Augustus fears that it will require only a counter-charge by the Nabstrians to drive his cavalry from the field completely. What now? Only Plan D will suffice: a return to the infantry assault in the centre. The Rotenburg foot look at one another nervously. Twenty minutes into the battle and already on Plan D, the troops are worried: there are only another 22 letters in the alphabet.
(Below) Forward! Forward! With a flourish of drums, the Rotenburg infantry trudge towards the Nabstrian line. Having lost already one of his infantry regiments, and with his cavalry terribly weakened, the Furst's plan can surely have no reasonable chance of success. Matters aren't helped by the fact that the mercenaries on Augustus' left are isolated and cannot joint the advance. Von Rumpfler licks his lips and orders his reserve columns forward into a position to the right of Chestwig, where they form line. The script is written; the play already practiced: the Rotenburg advance will stall, stymied by the stream and the lethal volleys of the Nabstrian foot; then the Nabstrian right wing, led by the Burgrave's guards will fall upon the exposed flank of the Rotenburg position.
Luckily for Furst Augustus, his troops are as literate as a dyslexic hedgehog with an eye-patch; and appreciate a good play about as much as they like having a bath. Unable to read the script, and extending an impudent digit to the play, the Rotenburg soldiery hold their nerve. Approaching within musket range, rolling volleys commence from each side. Now deployed in the second line, the Landgravial Lifeguard (white flag) continues to inspire the surrounding regiments. Their sedate cadenced step is maintained even under heavy fire, the result partly of intense training and partly the chafing caused by their iron-bound cods.
It is clear that the stout Rotenburg infantry intend to write their own script for this battle; or, at least, to colour in the margins somewhat in crayon. The Nabstrians buckle first! Their initial fire inflicts minimal casualties, and the Rotenburg return volleys decimate one of the Nabstrian regiments, which quits the field! (Below) Von Rumpfler is forced to summon a fresh regiment to plug the line (centre, blue and yellow flag). Still, this is surely only a temporary success. (Below, left) The wiley Von Rumpler himself comes forwards and orders the Burgravial guard to wheel to its left, ready to unleash deadly enfilading fire against the Rotenburg lines.
Soon, the Rotenburgers find that they are having their flanks lapped: a not unusual circumstance for Landgrave Choldwig, but rather less appreciated by his weary soldiery. 'Fire!' cries Von Rumpler, and an elite volley crashes into the flank of the nearest Rotenburg regiment, (Below) The Rotenburg regiment collapses, its troops cut to pieces! Furst Augustus has now lost one cavalry and two infantry regiments whilst the Nabstrians have lost only one.
And yet, and yet ....(Above, at the top) Some subtle signs of a change of fortune are present. Having marched to within range of the Nabstrian artillery, the Rotenburg musketeers scythe down the Nabstrian gunners with deadly salvoes. (Above, to the right, in blue) And finally the mercenaries have been marched into the fray. The situation is fraught for the Rotenburg infantry assault, but all is not yet lost. The troops draw strength from the steadiness of the Landgravial Lifeguard (white flag, top). The Lifeguard, it seems, cannot feel fear; indeed, thanks to their outsized codpieces, they now cannot feel their legs either.
(Above) O Fortuna! How suddenly the situation changes! Superlative musketry from the Furst's troops tumble down the Nabstrian troops like ninepins. To Von Rumpfler's chagrin, the Burgravial guard in front of Chestwig breaks and runs, closely followed by one of the regiments between Chestwig and the stream. (Below, at the top) Now the Nabstrians are on the ropes. In the crucial position immediately in front of Chestwig they have two units, whilst Rotenburg has four. Both of the formmer are widely separated and have suffered losses.
A Rotenburg victory?
(Above, at the bottom) Moreover, whilst Augustus continues to press the matter around Chestwig, Von Rumpfler cannot exploit his advantage over the Rotenburg cavalry. The Rotenburg right and Nabstrian left must instead to engage one another in a psychological war of words. Baiting one another, the cavalry throw out sarcasm, complex allegory, classically-themed puns, and poetic non-seqiteurs; the Nabstrian irregulars add some knob-jokes.
Heavy firing continues along the line of battle. Behind the Nabstrian ranks, the young Von Stumpe hears a hollow 'Ftoom' sound to his left. Turning, he is confronted by a small, corpulent fellow dressed in a very ill-fitting black cloak. In one hand the strange apparition clutches an enormous pie; in the other a large scythe wobbles alarmingly in his inexpert hands. 'How's it going' asks Famine, now munching on a fruit flan.' Death, blood, pain, horror' wails Von Stumpe, despairingly.' That's the spirit' says Famine encouragingly, the words now formed around a door-step of a sandwich. A Rotenburg volley thunders out somewhere to the front: nearby, a soldier has his brains messily blown out. With a frightened moan, Von Stumpe vomits hugely. As he recovers, he catches Famine looking speculatively at the pile of chuck; 'You going to finish that?' says Famine cheerily.
(Below) 'Fursty' for glory, Augustus goes for the coup-de-grace: the Landgravial Guard and Infantry Regiment No.2 are hurled against Nabstrian IR No.2 (Below, blue and yellow flag).
Fortune, they say, favours the brave, and the glittering Rotenburg bayonets soon seem to have the better of their Nabstrian opponents. The Nabstrian regiment breaks under the Rotenburg pressure. Now, the battle seems to have turned decisively against Von Rumpfler's troops: four Nabstrian infantry regiments have been lost, all in the critical position around Chestwig. But the two victorious Rotenburg regiments are now weakened by their exertions, and they take fire from the village of Chestwig, and from the remaining Nabstrian reserve regiment.
(Above) With gurgling screams, the Rotenburg IR No.2 expires in a bloody heap. There is now a gaping hole in the centre. To compound matters the Rotenburg mercenaries are swept away by fire from Nabstrian IR No.7 (yellow flag, bottom right). Augustus has lost four infantry regiments and one of cavalry: peering over the heaps of corpses, the Furst begins to worry that his army's morale might be affected a tad. Nevertheless, the Nabstrian army has also been shredded: half their infantry is either dead, or frantically wetting its pantaloons in the rear. (Below) With his lines ruptured, Von Rumpler is reduced to giving orders to his units individually. In the centre, he forms his two infantry units into a single line. On his right, he orders up his remaining reserve unit, IR No.6 (below, extreme left, light blue flag). The destruction of the mercenaries allows him to wheel IR No.7 (foreground) to bear down on the left flank of the remainder of the Rotenburg line.
Slowly, the tide turns. (Below, top) In the centre, volleys from the two Nabstrian regiments cause another Rotenburg unit to flee. Moreover, as musketry continues to be exchanged, Von Rumpfler slowly begins to flank the remaining Nabstrian forces.
(Right, middle) And so, we reach the climactic act of the battle of Chestwig. Nabstrian IR No. 6 (light blue flag) pours lethal volleys into the Landgravial Lifeguard from the front. IR No. 7 does the same from the flank. The Landgravial Guard are men of steel. Facing two units, one of which enfilades them, they fight like men. Proper men. These are no floppy Bachscuttel musketeers that run at the sudden appearance of tough-looking rabbits. Amidst the desperate screams of the wounded and the dull ping of musket balls off armoured groins, they let fly a defiant salvo at the regiment to their front. But IR No.6 survives, and the Nabstrian flanking fire finally destroys the guards entirely. With that, the Rotenburg army can take more and its morale breaks.
The field is choked with dead. Eleven infantry regiments have been lost: seven from Rotenburg, four from Nabstria. Further, Nabstria has lost all of its artillery, whilst Rotenburg has lost one of its cavalry regiments. The remains of the Rotenburg forces retire, the cavalry covering their retreat with a couple of witty literary allusions. The Nabstrian forces fall back to their encampment exhausted. The next morning, Furst Augustus is able to return to the battlefield. Scaring off some Nabstrian irregulars that are looting the local livestock and molesting the wounded, he rides sadly over to the remains of his Guards. They lie in thick lines of corpses, codpieces gleaming in the bright morning sunlight. Little does the Furst know that this place will become something of a place of pilgrimage: that strangers will come from far and wide to see the place that marks the final stand of the Landgravial Garde; that many a visitor will be taken in hand by one of the local village-folk and told: 'Come with me, Sir - I'll show you the field where the iron crotches grow.'
Despite his victory, Von Rumpfler cannot be pleased. The costs have been high: half his infantry is lost, the morale of his army has come within a hair's breadth of breaking, and Nora has been so long in the bath that she is as wrinkled now as his actual wife. As the General looks disconsolately at his casualty lists, a messenger arrives at his tent: urgent dispatches, from Sir Malilieu Fitzbuttress! Another battle has been fought! The armies of Bachscuttel and Grand Fenwick have clashed on the field of Zorninhaf. Slowly, Von Rumpfler opens the letter ....