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 ...

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Hednitz, the Final!

'So, by a plan, my lord,' says Duke Neucheim to General van Rentall, 'you mean simply allowing our two remaining infantry regiments to continue advancing forwards?'
General Herz van Rentall nods, peering into the swirling smoke below the hill from which the sound of battle emanates. 'Yes, Duke, dat's about it. De Nabtrian's will never expect it. No one ever regretsh shticking to the plan and pushing on - maintenance of da aim is key in war.'
'Hmmm,' my lord,' says the duke. 'That might not always be true. Flexibility also can be a virtue. I mean, Prince Paris, for example, on his trip back to Troy with Helen: imagine if he'd just thought: "You know what, on reflection she's not all that - I'm just going to drop her off in Greece and head to Ephesus for a few beers instead." Or the great Julius Caesar: imagine if he'd said on the morning of the Ides of March: "Bugger the forum - I'm just going to have a lie in." What I'm trying to say, sir, is that perhaps now might be the time to reconsider our involvement in this battle and embrace instead the gentle art of the tactical withdrawal.'
Rentall gestures into the valley below. 'Too late, my good duke. 'Shee, our next attack hash already commenced!'

(Right) Supported by the Liebgarde Feratu-Osterburg, Count Barlow's regiment fire a volley and then storm forwards! The regiment launch a vigorous Vulgarian bayonet charge, which is like an ordinary bayonet charge but with a lot more biting. Their target being yet another regiment of raw troops, the Nabstrian regiment collapses - this wasn't what they signed up for: route marches, yes; cadenced drill; occasional cruelty to rodents, but not the sudden violent assault of these be-wigged Vulgarian loonies. As Stumpe stares down onto the battlefield he begins to notice with horror a terrible development. Though words such as "sensitive," "caring," and "emotionally delicate" usually never appear in the same sentence as the words "Nabstrian troops" (actually, they rarely even feature in the same book), it seems that Stumpe's army is taking each of today's battle losses very hard indeed. Stumpe suffers the yawning realisation that, though his losses still are less than those of his Vulgarian adversary, the morale of his army is now little better.
Stumpe looks at his infantry line. 'Our men seem to be losing their enthusiasm for the fight,' he says, watching as a number of the troops drop their britches, pull their underbreeks over their heads, and in the hope of being sent to the rear on account of incipient madness, begin to hop around like frogs and "baah" like sheep.

As the Vulgarians drive forwards, Stumpe faces a dilemma: should he stay with his infantry, perhaps rallying them; or should he ride pell-mell to his cavalry and bring them forwards in preparation for an impetuous charge against the Vulgarian rear? Stumpe thinks for a moment - what would General von Rumpfler do? Stumpe considers the answer but then rejects it - he cannot afford the time to moon over Frau Hindquarters and in this crisis it would be best if he kept his britches on. Finally he decides.
'Saxe,' he says, interrupting the marshal, 'stop fiddling under that blanket and hold the fort: I ride now to call von Pfanenstiel hence!'
'Call him hence?' replies de Saxe, 'I think that you should call him 'Pfanenstiel" or he might not understand.'

(Left, at the top) Finally, the Nabstrian cavalry begins to move forwards. Von Pfanenstiel is relieved. As it turns out, battle is not what his father's tales had led him to expect. There is a lot less charging; or fighting; or, to be frank, proximity to the enemy. His troops have spent much of the fight amusing themselves by watching the lamentable Nabstrian light troops accidentally shooting one another. Now, with orders to join the fray, the Nabstrian horsemen charge forwards. This is more like it! Advancing towards the enemy with drawn swords! Riding down one's own line of light troops! Hurrah! Hurrah!

(Left, at the bottom) In front of Marshal Horace de Saxe, however, the Vulgarian counter-attack begins to build even more momentum. Like a military juggernaut, though with longer wigs and more frilly lace than juggernauts one might usually encounter, both Count Barlow's regiment and the Osterburg-Feratu Liebgarde hurl themselves into the Nabstrian line! Though one of the defenders again is composed of raw troops, the Vulgarian Lieb-garde must face elite adversaries.

A vicious hand-to-hand encounter ensues, but (right) before Saxe even has a chance to take his hands out from under his blanket, the two Nabstrian regiments break!
From across the battlefield, Stumpe through his telescope sees the appalling result of this fight and howls. 'Are our troops really so terrible?' he asks.
'Only in a literal sense,' replies von Pfanenstiel.

The Nabstrian situation is now equally as perilous as that of their adversaries. Both sides' morale is now so low that the loss of a single additional unit will likely decide the battle. In front of each of the Vulgarian regiments is a raw Nabstrian infantry unit, ripe for the biting. But the Vulgarians themselves are heavily disordered and thus vulnerable. The battle hangs in the balance. If the two Vulgarian units are granted a little time to rally themselves then they will be able to resume their advance. Desperately, the Nabstrians lower their muskets and fire a volley at the Vulgarian Liebgarde: the muskets blast and smoke spews forth wreathing the battle field with smoke...

... and as it clears, all that remains are corpses and abandoned muskets and wigs: the Vulgarians have been broken!

(Below) Having finally run of morale (and also pretty much of live troops), Rentall signals reluctantly for his army to retreat. A victory for Nabstria! Hurrah for "General von Rumpfler!" But there are far fewer Nabstrian troops at their bivouac fires that evening: half the infantry has been lost and six of the regiments in the Nabstrian army must now be reconstituted with conscripts.

Still, it is nevertheless a Nabstrian victory. But a Nabstrian victory that means that the Burgraviate's army is in Vulgaria and not in the vicinity of the Empire of Fenwick. This fact becomes important, dear reader, as the next part of Saukopf-Bachscuttel's nefarious plan begins to unfold along the banks of the the River Strudel!

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Hednitz, the Third!

Caught by the rapid advance of the Nabstrian army, the situation for the Vulgarians looks dark. Dark, of course, is a relative concept. The Vulgarian general Herz van Rentall's position is certainly not as dark as a priest's socks, for example.* However, it is certainly sufficiently gloomy that it could be described as "tenebrous;" except that if one did describe it thus, everyone in Rentall's headquarters would nod sagely and say "indeed; yes; quite so; I was about to make the very same comment myself" whilst also being entirely unsure about whether that meant things were very dark, or quite undark, or French. So, whilst the exact darkness of the Vulgarian position might actually lie at some point between "caliginous" and "crepuscular," most of Rentall's staff officers would probably just characterise the Vulgarian position in terms similar to that of Rentall's General of Infantry, Duke Walter Neucheim:
'We're screwed like Archimedes!' shouts the Duke wildly, above the sound of musketry.
Rentall points calmly at his advancing troops. 'Wait,' he says, 'It ish too early to panic, my good duke - let ush shee what now transhpires .'

(Above) The two generals eye each other from their respective hills. The Vulgarian infantry utilise combined movement to bring together their two infantry forces into a single line. This seems to have an immediate invigorating effect upon the Vulgarian fighting spirit. The left-most Nabstrian infantry regiment is composed of raw recruits and is already in some disorder. In front of them, the Vulgarian Regiment Blasco level their muskets and fire a tremendous volley. (Below) The Nabstrian regiment collapses so spectacularly that many in the adjacent units are injured by fragments. All that remains are corpses, abandoned muskets, and some extensive staining that will be very difficult to get out of the grass.

The Nabstrians strike back quickly, however. Flanking the Vulgarian left, a series of heavy volleys pours into the defending troops. The Osterburg Cuirassiers, hit in the rear, are utterly destroyed. The two left-most Vulgarian regiments, Count Orlok's and the Grand Prior's, are also driven from the field.
'Exshellent,' says Rentall, surveying the situation.
'Excellent?' asks Neucheim incredulously. 'Our army is being crushed by these effective if predictable Nabstrian tactics. We must surely retire and save the army!'
Rentall shrugs. 'But none of da troopsh dat we have losht seem to have been very popular,' he replies. 'And our morale ish shtill quite good. Alsho, all da losses can be made good by our depots. I would prefer to shee dis ash an opportunity: we have shlimmed down our forces, making dem more lean and efficient.'
Neucheim grimaces. 'Well, general, if by "lean and efficient" you mean "dead" then I can say wholeheartedly that our army is becoming one of the most economical forces in Mittelheim.'

(Below) The Vulgarian left has been shattered utterly. Yet (below, at the top) the three remaining Vulgarian infantry regiments continue their assault! The Regiment Blasco launches an attack on the raw troops of Nabstrian Infanterie Regiment No.3. Terrified by the relentless advance of the Vulgarian enemy, and unsettled by the sharpness of their archaic pikes and the luxuriance of their wigs, the conscripts shrink back. After a short and unsuccessful attempt to coax their testicles back out of their bodies, the Nabstrians break and flee.

From his vantage point close by, Stumpe sees an opportunity. Though the Regiment Blasco has succeeded in driving Infanterie Regiment No. 3 from the field, it is obvious that the Vulgarian regiment is in perilous disorder: their ranks are ragged; cohesion has been lost; and some of the men are already packing for the journey home. 
'See, Saxe!' says Stumpe, pointing, 'Now is our opportunity to crush this unwelcome Vulgarian show of spirit!'
'Yes, yes, my good capt ... I mean general,' agrees de Saxe vigorously. 'Now is the time to commit the elephants.'
Stumpe pauses. 'Or alternatively,' he says, 'we might order forward Infanterie Regiment No. 6. Though they too are raw troops, the Vulgarians cannot take any more disorder. Victory is guaranteed!'
'Yes, yes!' nods Saxe in complete agreement, 'very wise. Save the elephants for later.'
Saxe sends a courier immediately to the Sixth Infantry ordering an immediate charge!

In the chaos of battle, the Inhaber of Infanterie Regiment No. 6, Colonel Josef Karl von Hanua-Brancau peers wildly at the scrap of paper with his orders on it. 'God's toenails,' he curses, passing the sheet to his aide-de-campe, 'what on earth does that say?'
'Tsk, tsk - it's difficult to say, sir' replies the officer, 'The general should really practice his script. Is that an "n" or an "r:"?'
Hanua-Brancau curses again, 'So are we being ordered to charge or to change? Are we to crush the Vulgarians to our front or dress for dinner?'
'Perhaps, sir, the safest thing would be to do both?'
'Good thinking, my fine fellow - issue the orders to the men!'

(Above) 'Um,' says de Saxe, 'Why is that regiment getting undressed?'
Saxe face palms himself. 'What? What? Still ...' he says looking at the developing attack, 'see how the freshness of their new undergarments has inspired them! See how they hurl themselves at the foe! See how the Vulgarians push some of the smaller of their number onto the bayonets of our troops and then run off! Hurrah! Hurrah! Victory! Victory! 

(Above) The battle seems now effectively to be over. Only two Vulgarian infantry regiments remain and two of cavalry. The latter, however, are deployed in a fashion known as 'The Brave Sir Robin' i.e. they are facing away from the enemy, primed for a really quite rapid bout of buggering off and running away. At this point, the Nabstrians have lost only two regiments of infantry, whilst Vulgaria has lost three regiments of infantry and one of cavalry.
In the Vulgarian headquarters, Duke Neucheim assesses the situation with hs characterisitc sang froid. 'General, could I be the first to say "Aaaah! We're all going to die! Retreat! Flee! Surrender! Collaborate!"' 
Rentall regards the battlefield with equanimity. 'Never fear, Neucheim,' he says, 'I've been in tighter spotsh dan dis. Actually, I've been in tighter tightsh. I have a plan ...'

* Which, as we know Dougal, are actually black, whereas everything else that is nominally black is just very, very, very dark blue.