The Luftberg sappers approached the bottom of the glacis before the selected section of wall, digging a new approach out from the second parallel. The Aschenbach defenders had no interest in letting it slide however, and launched a sortie to disrupt the digging. This was the first launched since the major sortie a week earlier, and as it had been modified for all it’s mistakes it was very different. The attackers only used four bases, launched the attack at short-range, and backed off fast once they’d wrecked the digging. End result: 1 Aschenbach base lost, 3 Luftberg bases destroyed, and all digging works brought to a standstill.
Artillery fire had been underway for four days now on the central bastion, which the defenders decided against abandoning in favour of putting up a fight. A sharp artillery exchange caused some losses in the besieging artillerists, but their numbers and advantages in position all told and the gunners were driven out of the bastion with heavy losses. In front of the fortress, the Luftberg infantry persevered with the approach trench while the defending batteries were distracted by the duel around the bastion.
The approach again steadily inched forward, so another small sortie was launched – almost exactly like the last one. This time 2 Aschenbach and 3 Luftberg bases were lost, but despite half the sortie being lost the trench was again brought to a virtual standstill.
1. Kleintrink Bastion; 2. Kaisertreu Bastion; 3. Zaub Bastion; 4. Vogelhof Redoubt; 5. Support Trench
The Elector of Luftberg pondered this over with the HQ Siege staff – Major Ungaurn & Captain von Prittstik – and determined a plan. The approach was being brought to a standstill through enemy battery fire and constant sorties, and more support would be needed. Most of the Aschenbach casualties had been caused by fire from adjacent units in the completed trench sections, who could fire from relative safety onto the attackers. Also, the sorties were typically approaching head-on to the tip of the approach trench, wrecking the advancing excavations before the marauding troops hit the completed trench, took losses and then fell back. The order was given to extend the trench of the second parallel (labelled 5 on the map)round to the south from the Vogelhof Bastion and envelop the approach trench. This way, any sortie would be forced to attack into a blizzard of crossfire from entrenched infantry. Little did they know, but the Aschenbach high command had already just given orders to halt sorties on the approach. The defenders were losing men less rapidly, but could still not afford the cost of constant sorties and were down to around 70% of their strength. The approach trench had been stalled for over a week, and now it was time to wait and conserve strength for the direct assaults which would cost the attacker more heavily.
Four days on, with new supports dug out, the approach trench finally reached the glacis opposite the tip of the Zaub Bastion. Heavy artillery fire had still made progress difficult and costly, even without the infantry attacks. The Aschenbach defenders packed the covered way opposite the trench with troops, ready to make the assault’s reception as warm as possible. In the rest of the fortress, they stripped the defences down and – to reduce wastage from random cannon shots – pulled their troops back into the ditch for protection, leaving only spotters to keep watch for an enemy attack.
The attackers have opened up a new approach to menace the other parts of the defences, trying to position themselves at the bottom of the glacis for a plausible raid on the northeast covered way, forcing defenders to stay close by. Other than this, the trenchworks are now sufficiently developed for the batteries to be relocated and enfilade the ravelin directly in front of the intended breach location.
A hot exchange of fire over the ravelin, but the defenders cling stubbornly on. The approach trench in front of the intended attack sector is now extended to the tip of the Zaub bastion, and a new branch is started out to the Kaisertreu bastion tip, effectively turning it into a third parallel spanning between the Kaisertreu & Zaub bastions. This trench will be converted into the mortar battery once the guns (imminently) arrive, but first the protecting infantry screen must make the next leap forward – the covered way lodgement. Some thought on troop movements down trenches quickly shows that once the assault has been launched, the reserves filing up the trench will only be able to supply a further 2 bases a turn – potentially not making good losses from the enemy’s fire. Orders are issued for the flanking trench (5 on the map) to be extended to join the 3rd parallel, doubling the rate that the follow-up waves can enter.
Sensing that they’re just pushing their luck, the defending gun crews in the ravelin abandon the work and withdraw their guns back into the fortress.
The extending third parallel, heading to the tip of the Kaisertreu, appears to be less well covered than the initial third parallel lodgement. A small 2-base raid is launched, but lively fire from the Luftberg troops cuts one base down and sends the other scarpering back, with the digging works undisturbed. The stage was now set for the Covered Way storming. To date, the Luftberg besiegers have lost 20 bases as permanent casualties in a full month of besieging works – a figure expected to mount spectacularly when they actually have to switch from digging to directly attacking fortifications. In the meantime, the troop-packed fortification lines edge even nearer…