Friday, 18 November 2016

Boss, the Plain!

Meanwhile, the forces of Bachscuttel march, stride, walk, limp and wade into Vulgaria.  The initial sense of elation felt by the common soldiery at having left the confines and the aroma of Bachscuttel and Gelderland begins to fade. First comes the unwelcome encounter with the River Strudel: splashing from their boats the soldiers look around around suspiciously, wary in case of the unwelcome arrival of some soap. Now, marching across the river plain, the men realise just how big is the sky in this foreign, foreboding land.  The unending treeless plains, extending for almost two miles, begin to exert their magnetic hold over the limited imaginations of the Bachscuttel army. They seem to be marching, like the proud phalangites of ancient Alexander, to the ends of the known world, which for most of the Bachscuttel army began around two hundred yards from their local tavern. Proud infantrymen, for the first time in their lives, begin to regret their career choice: perhaps having a horse to ride and a silly hat to wear wouldn’t be so stupid after all…

         As the Bachscuttel army toils across open, empty plains, Voivode Dimitri of Vulgaria calls a council of war.  It has to be said that it is not so much a council of war as a conversation of war, the meeting consisting solely of the Voivode and his wily Dutch commander, Hertz van Rentall.  The Dutchman has a rugged and ruddy visage, some say from an over-fondness for jenever, and he has served in almost every army across Europe.  He even once reached the lofty rank of major in Spanish service before having to flee the country due to a misunderstanding in a tavern about a pair of jugs.  Yet still his wanderings across the continent have given him experience, an eye for ground, and occasional painful discharges other than his military ones.
A View Over The Planes of Vulgaria
The Voivode and van Rentall contemplate the current state of the Vulgarian army.  The forces have indeed been hastily cobbled together.  Were the forces a shoe, it would be lacking a sole, a tongue and perhaps a couple of eyelets. Its main strength lies in cavalry – ideal for galloping across the open lands near the river. There is the Garde du Corps of von Ruthven's Osterberg Cuirassiers, and three stout and well-trained regiments of regular cavalry. As a living embodiment of Vulgaria’s continuing feudalism, the force also contains two bodies of irregular cavalry.  Yet while the Vulgarians are strong in the arme blanche, their force of four ill-trained infantry regiments, and one more of Foot Guards, can be no match for the formidable Bachscuttel Guards Regiments.  Not only that, but the Vulgarian infantry cut an ill figure: they are still armed, equipped and uniformed with the accouterments of a past age.  The Vulgarians had salvaged much from the armies of the Great Northern War a generation ago and have kept to those ancient fashions – hardly suitable for modern campaigning. 
Nonetheless, the fiery young Prince Dimitri is confident, ‘Ah, van Rentall!   We shall attack the filthy Bachscuttels on our beloved plains of Vulgaria!  On our wide open flats, their doom shall be struck!  They can have no answer to our well-mounted cavalry and the fierce feudal loyalty of our men!  We can ride only to Victory!  Onwards!’  Even van Rentall, the wily old soldier is caught up in this enthusiasm as he knows that if the Bachscuttel force can be halted , the two to one Vulgarian advantage in cavalry might enable them to encircle and then destroy their foe!

And so, as the two armies march across the plains, ever in search of the other, it comes to pass that one day scouts from both forces eventually spot each other.  Yet as the armies come inexorably closer to one another, it is Graf Barry-Eyland's skill and experience as a ‘Great Captain’ which begins to tell…  Even with a far greater preponderance of cavalry, in the cat and mouse game of manoeuvring which follows, the Vulgarians are unable to prevent Barry-Eyland from seizing the initiative and immediately throwing his army onto the defensive.
Using all of his guile, Barry-Eyland finds and exploits the only terrain features for miles.  He sees a small wood and an insignificant stream close by and immediately sees his chance.  He calls his aides together and declares his intentions: ‘Aha!  I’ve been waiting for a stream and a wood to appear somewhere as we crossed these barren, featureless plains!  Now you will see how a General of Bachscuttel can defend a position!  Deploy our force with our right flank on that loop in the stream over there and put the irregulars into the wood to protect the left flank.  Then we can form up between those obstacles and form an impenetrable defence!’
'But, Sir,' cry his aides, 'we are in the midst of an unending plain; a plain so open I have never seen the like before.  Even if we do form up, won’t the Vulgarian cavalry simply slip round our flanks and endanger our rear?  Could we not manoeuvre, just for a change?  Could we not use these plains to our advantage?  Could we not order our stout infantry – the best in all Mittelheim - to advance and punch a hole straight through the scanty Vulgarian lines?  Could we not win … a great victory?'
But Barry-Eylund is adamant:
‘I won’t hear of it!  I didn’t build this army up man by man just to throw it all away in a reckless attack!  No, we must sit behind this stream and dig like men!  Where are those gabions?  We need more gabions in front of the guns….’
‘But sir, there isn’t a stick of willow within two hundred miles of here and the gunners are finding it difficult to fashion gabions out of grass and this light friable soil….’
‘Do you think I care!  Make more gabions!  We can’t even think of manoeuvring our guns – the enemy is bound to come straight towards us!  Our defence must be impenetrable!’

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