Sunday, 27 September 2015

This way, men!

The place: a small patch of Nabstria, near the River Strudel on the frontier with Gelderland. The time: five days before the battle of Heisenleman, just before supper. The dramatis personae: Captain Hugo von Stumpe, staff officer to General von Rumpfler; Colonel Zeigler of the Nabstrian army; and a select body of troops chosen especially for ...

'Operation Probable Death?' says Zeigler, an eyebrow raised higher than a gymnastic caterpillar.
Stumpe nods. 'I wanted a code-name that was dramatic but that was also broadly accurate. I thought that "Operation Certain Death" might be bad for morale.'
'You can't include the word "death" in the code-name,' says the Colonel: 'think of something more optimistic; something that will buoy up the spirits of the troops.'
Stumpe reflects for a moment. 'Fair enough, Colonel: "Operation Possible Survival," it is.'
Zeigler casts a look at King Wilhelm, strapped, for his journey to Grosschnitzelring, onto a specially strengthened wheelbarrow.
'If you want accuracy', says Zeigler, 'then "Operation Certain Hernia" would seem a reasonable one. Look at him. He's like a middle-aged walrus that's really let himself go.'
Stumpe continues. 'I've taken the liberty of picking the best fellows available for your mission. Now bear in mind', and here his voice becomes to Zeigler suspiciously placatory, 'that with the need to bring our musketeer regiments up to strength, the pool of available manpower for your mission was not as large as it might otherwise have been.'
'How big was the pool?' asks Zeigler.
Stumpe shrugs. 'Well, I say pool; it was more of a ... puddle, really.' He shouts out an order, and Zeigler's intrepid troops shuffle forwards. Zeigler groans inwardly: these are 'rank and file' only in the sense that they 'file in, smelling rank.'
Also, to man, they are dressed in women's clothes.
At this, Zeigler nods approvingly: 'Excellent idea, men - on a secret mission like this, we need to disguise ourselves.'
The troops look confused: 'What secret mission? Are we going somewhere?'
The Colonel looks despairingly at Stumpe. 'How am I to complete this mission with such a force? You may as well have recruited for me a flock of sheep.'
At this, there is some grumbling from the front rank of troops, and then some 'baas' from the second. 'When I said "puddle of manpower,"' says the Captain. 'it was really more of a ... small spillage. Anyway, I have to be off: you should say a few appropriate words to, you know, enthuse them for the mission.'
'A few appropriate words?' whispers Zeigler to Stumpe incredulously. 'Well, yes: how about "sodding hell, we're all going to die."'
Zeigler closes his eyes, slows his breathing and takes himself to his happy place - a place, unsurprisingly, that is far, far away from Mittelheim.
Zeigler sighs wearily and then turns to his troops.
'Time for the men to tool up, Sergeant', he says.
'Righto sir, I'll sort it out'

Mopping his brow, a soldier propels Wilhelm slowly back
to Gelderland.
Stumpe mounts his horse, and then leans over to Zeigler, addressing him quietly. 'The mission is even more dangerous than we thought - as it turns out, Ms Hindquarters' intelligence was not complete. The postern gate which will be be your means of ingress through the defences of Grosschnitzelring has a state of the art security system, comprising of  successive layers of password protection. You will need to navigate your way through by using your wits.'
Stumpe then addresses Zeigler's men. 'This is it, my brave fellows - it is time now to do or die in the name of our Burgrave. God save Nabstria!'
Amidst answering rousing cries of 'God save the Burgrave!', 'Death before dishonour!' and 'Oooh, my corset's killing me', Stumpe rides off to rejoin Rumpfler's army.
Zeigler busies himself awhile with the last preparations for his mission, and then, at midnight, the small force assembles for the march on the Gelderland capital.
'Everything ready sergeant?'
'Yes sir, all done.'
Zeigler pauses as if he has just had a thought.
'Yes sir?'
'When I said that the men should tool up ... they've got muskets, pistols and swords, yes? Not screwdrivers or, um, lathes and stuff.'
There is an awkward pause: 'Sir ... I'll be back in a minute'.
Zeigler nods wearily. 'Of course, sergeant; of course.'

Friday, 4 September 2015

Heisenleman, the final!

Entirely unlike King Wilhelm, the battle has taken nearly all day to reach its climax. With the Imperial assault upon the Palatinate's forces stalled, it is down now to the sprucely uniformed musketeers of Nabstria to make the decisive attack. Trumpets sound, the drums beat, and the impeccably dressed Nabstrian foot march forwards determinedly. As the sun begins slowly to set, glittering redly upon cold steel, General Von Rumpfler rides up and down the Nabstrian lines, waving his hat and shouting vigorously: 'Forward, men! Now is the time! Drive the enemy from the field! Give them your bayonets, or any other sharp objects that you might have about your person!' His men advance in silence. Nine regiments of musketeers step forwards, supported by a unit of the Burgrave's mercenary infantry.

(Below, left) Furst Augustus helps himself to a brandy from his personal barrel, although, given the lateness of the hour, an ovaltine might be more appropriate. Saxe-Peste remains confident. He has seven regiments to hold the line, and he really doesn't have to hold it for very long. On his far left, two units will be able to take cover behind walls. At the moment, the Furst has ordered them to hold back, to prevent the enemy artillery from being able to fire upon them. He also has two regiments in reserve, ready to move to whatever point is threatened. Moreover, as the Nabstrians advance, their numerical advantage begins to shrink. Looking to his left, Rumpfler sees the threat posed by the Landgravial cavalry - cursing the limp performance of his own mounted forces, the General is forced to order two regiments of his troops to wheel in order to screen the flank of his advance. However, Rumpfler still has a trick or two up his sleeve that he believes will restore the advantage to his troops.

On the other side of the field, the battle has petered out faster than Landgrave Choldwig's new year's resolutions concerning olive oil and debauchery. Cavandish and Barry-Eylund seem to have taken very different approaches to supporting their respective allies. The good Marshal has dispatched Nitzwitz directly to the Imperial artillery. All of Cavandish's attention is now given to working his grand battery in support of the Nabstrians. Barry-Eylund, it has to be said, seems to have chosen a rather different path. When an officer arrives from the Palatinate cavalry asking if they might cross the stream and move around the Imperial flank, the General cannot be found. Indeed, Barry-Eylund has inveigled his way into Rupprecht's card game.
'Pass!' says the General, picking up more cards.
'Snap!' says the Prince, enthusiastically taking them all.
'What are we playing?' says the General, confused.
'Billiards', says Count Erlock-Weisse, dejectedly.

As Barry-Eylund continues to treat the battle as a card game, Furst Augustus suddenly begins to understand the peril facing his troops. (Below) As the Nabstrian infantry bear down upon the Rotenburg line, Furst Augustus is now necessarily forced to order his troops to line the walls in front of their position so that they can bring their musketry to bear upon their foes. In doing so, however, the Rotenburg musketeers can now be seen again by the Imperial artillery. The cunning Von Rumpfler signals the Nabstrian infantry to halt, and waits for his ally to pour in some preparatory fire. At Marshal Cavandish's orders, the grand battery belches out once again its hail of death, destruction, and mortuary-related unpleasantness. Despite the obstacle of the wall, the skilled Imperial gunners seem to have regained the joie de malleting that they exhibited at the commencement of the battle, and they wreak havoc upon the Rotenburg defence.

Though the Landgravial musketeers have their bodies protected by the wall, their heads remain cruelly exposed. The Imperial gunners use all of the fruits of their specialist training, skipping and richocheting their ballons du morts into the poor infantryman. Though one might argue that, for an infantry musketeer in the Age of Reason, the head is perhaps the least useful of all of the body's appendages, still, it soon becomes apparent that separating it from the body does make infantry drill more problematic to execute in a timely manner. As more and more are decapitated, the musketeers' effectiveness ebbs, and, despite valiant attempts by subalterns to balance heads back onto the bodies (though not always the right ones), it becomes clear that the battalion's combat effectiveness is  broken irrevocably even if its cognitive capacity has been reduced only marginally.

(Below, at top). With a final wet bouncing sound, the last of the musketeers is fatally shortened above the neck, and the regiment is finished. There is now a gap in the Rotenberg line! 

Furst Augustus tries to hurry along his reserves to plug the hole. In the meantime, Cavandish directs the Imperial artillery to focus on the next regiment  along. The slaughter wreaked by their guns proves to be a moving experience for the Fenwickian cannoneers: songs are sung, tears are shed, though the wetness of Fenwickian cheeks is nothing compared to the condition of Rotenberg underpants, as the guns destroy the other regiment behind the wall.

Such is the carnage behind the Rotenburg lines that Death has been forced to substitute his usual scythe for a large shovel. Although, metaphysically, Death obviously is present everywhere and at all times, still, the effort that he is forced to put into matching the effects of the Imperial artillery means that he is rather, well, thinly spread, elsewhere. Thus, somewhere near Limoges, the dreadful violinist Armand Gateaux, assaulted badly by his unhappy audience, finds that having a violin bow thrust manfully right through his head is not the terminal experience that one might expect. The fellow lives for another thirty years, most of it spent trying to navigate through doorways. And in Grimsby, the Scottish-French engineer, Colonel Dougal Entendre, is most surprised that the half ton block of marble dropped accidentally on his head, bounces off and merely flattens his wig a tad. Suspecting that no one has such luck without it catching up on him, Colonel Entendre makes passage on the first ship out of the port. Sadly for him, its destination is Mittelheim.

Furst Augustus is forced now to commit his two reserve regiments to plug the gap on his left. The threat from the enemy's artillery means that these regiments cannot line the wall, and so the Nabstrian infantry are protected from Rotenburg musketry. 'Forward!' cries Von Rumpler, and the general himself gallops to the scene of the action. The rat-a-tat of Nabstrian drums continues as the Nabstrian infantry recommence their advance. (Below, middle) But what's this? By this stage of the Wars of the Gelderland Succession, Rumpfler can barely raise a shrug of his shoulders when, of course, it transpires that there's something not marked on his map: a patch of rocky ground so obvious that a mole with a comedy eye-patch could see it.
'There's nothing else on the map is there?' says Rumpfler.
'I don't think so, my lord', reply his staff officers.
'Not a mountain range we haven't seen? Or Ragnarok itself?'
'No, no, my lord'.
'Saint Paul's cathedral?'
The officers pause for a moment and then quickly cast their eyes over their maps.
'No, no, my lord. Definitely, probably not.'

Despite the map-related inconvenience, Rumpfler is unperturbed. Soon, and just as he anticipated, a bout of confusion strikes one of the Furst's reserve regiments, and it hops over from the safety of the wall, advancing towards the Nabstrians. Musketry crackles and, though the Landgravial musketeers do creditable damage to their opposition, one Nabstrian regiment breaking, the weight of fire opposing them is too great - the unit buckles, then routs, the troops pouring backwards. (Below, bottom) There is now a gap in the Rotenburg line again, and there are no reserves left to fill it. Furst Augustus' infantry is reduced to but four battalions, and seven Nabstrian units now bear down on them. The evening gloom begins to deepen.

(Below, right) There is some consolation for the Rotenbergers as one of the Nabstrian regiments, its blood up, conducts a foolhardy bayonet attack over the rocky ground and across the wall. It is beaten back and routed. But the situation remains grim.
'Give me night!' wails Furst Augustus. 'Give me night, or give me a marvelously creative supporting action from my ally, Barry-Eylund!'

The latter, sadly, is unlikely.
'What are we playing now?' asks Barry-Eylund.
'Bridge', says Count Erlock-Weisse, wearily.
Prince Rupprecht slams down his hand, but before he can say anything Barry-Eylund interrupts.
'My Lord, I understood that in order to claim the cards, the card that you put down has to be the same as mine. But, see, my lord, your card is different. I have a nine of spades and you seem to have ... Mrs Bunn the Baker. An easy mistake to make my lord, what with the din of cannon and such, and so not in any way, I should wager, an attempt to pervert the rules of the game.'
Rupprecht nods slowly, and then gestures for the general to lean forward.
Barry-Eylund leans forward, and the Prince then punches him mightily in the face.
'Snap!' says the Prince, happily.

As the last sliver of sun begins to slide below the horizon, the Nabstrians, like King Wilhelm eating a large plate of scones, make one last heave. Once again, one of the Furst's units confuses its orders, interpreting the command 'Halt! Defend in place!' with 'Advance! Into the rocky ground! Yeah!' (Below, centre)

But actually, the regiment performs surprisingly well amidst the difficult terrain. None of the Nabstrian volleys hit it at all, and with the light now dimmer than their own officers, it it clear that the Nabstrian troops have simply run out of time.With night having fallen, the chances of any further Nabstrian success are lower than a hedge-hogs kneecaps, and the prospect of launching another assault about as inviting as King Wilhelm's belly-button after a particularly vigorous frolic.
'Curses!' howls Rumpfler.
'Zzzzzzzz', says Cavandish gently, fast asleep now that his cannon have stopped firing. 

(Below) And so, the battle of Heisenleman draws to a close.

As the Combined Grand Army withdraws from the field, Furst Augustus rides forwards to visit his cavalry, the attack of which was undoubtedly the decisive event in the battle. The Furst meets with Colonel du Vicque, and in the gloom Saxe-Peste looks sadly upon the heaps of fallen cavalrymen.
'A savage fight', he says to du Vicque.
'Indeed, my lord', says the Colonel, 'It was quite a tussle'.
'How vicious those Nabstrians were', says Furst Augustus. 'I mean, look at that poor ensign there. He seems to have been shoved bodily onto his own trumpet'.
'Inexplicable',says du Vicque, in a neutral tone.
'And then he seems to have beaten himself around the head savagely with his own instrument'.
'Battle can do that to a man', says du Vicque, avoiding eye contact.

The Imperial and Nabstrian forces are able to retire in good order, but the battle, and also the war, are now lost for them. It is a splendid victory for Rotenburg and for Bachscuttel: hurrah for Landgrave Choldwig! Hurrah for Prince Rupprecht!

For King Wilhelm, however, the excitement is far from over; and we turn now, dear reader, to the strange adventures of Colonel Zeigler...