Following on from the Covered Way assault, the battered Luftberg infantry were quickly ordered on to dig some approach trenches, connecting the ends of the lodgement to the third parallel. As this put the third parallel back from the front line, the mortar batteries were also set up in it to open on the Zaub bastion. Aschenbach defending guns had an easy time of it, firing on the frantic digging works as well as enfilading the poor troops stuck in the covered way, now perfectly overlooked by the defenders.
The approaches to either end of the covered way were finally completed, and digging works began at the top of the glacis for the final artillery positions – the plan being that the covered way would be kept filled with infantry to guard against sallies, while the guns were dug in just behind them and able to fire on the walls at long last.
Some of the mortar batteries proved unable to reach the defences, and so were repositioned further forward – those that could reach the Zaub bastion soon had shells arcing into the enemy positions. The heavy toll of Aschenbach gunnery continued on the covered way defenders.
Digging works were at last ended. Guns were hauled up to the brink of the ditch, finally overlooking the wall of the fortress. Also, Aschenbach casualties were mounting from the mortars’ constant attentions, with some battery crews being smashed in the Zaub Bastion.
Under a constant rain of shells, Von Krumper decides to concede the Zaub bastion and conserve his gunners for work elsewhere. For the first time since taking the covered way eight days ago, the Luftberg infantry are no longer enfiladed and both the target bastions are suppressed. The very southernmost flank of the lodgement is abandoned, on account of this extended area still being vulnerable from guns further round the fortress, so the captured covered way now extends only between bastion tips. Still, it proves enough and the Luftberg cannon open fire on the fortress walls for the first time.
With no vulnerable digging works, the defenders’ guns concentrate all their fire on the Luftberg guns now knocking away at the fortress walls. Artillery losses mount on both sides, as the mortar batteries prove themselves ideal for counter-battery work. I’d always thought of them as an attacking weapon, but the defenders probably wish they had a few in the garrison!
A Breach! The first section of wall has been smashed down, permitting a single infantry base to squeeze into the defences. If the opening is widened, the besiegers will be able to launch an assault in the comfortable expectation of success. The artillery duel continues, but with the mortars now in use as reinforcements the attackers have a distinct advantage in weight of fire, as the steadily mounting Aschenbach losses attest. Their only hope now is the running down of the clock…
Finally, after more than two weeks of constant battering, the breach is deemed ‘practicable’ for an assault. The covered way is packed with troops, as it has been for the last few weeks, and the defenders take stock.
So, what now for Aschenbach? Upon sad reflection, they’ve been too passive in the siege and now have limited options. From their initial force of 30 infantry, only 10 now remain thanks to the ill-advised sortie early in the siege and the constant efforts of the mortars since their arrival a month ago. Numbers are now so tight that a sortie to regain the covered way would be doomed to fail. A defence of the breach against an enemy assault, as well as diversionary attacks elsewhere, would likely cause great destruction but ultimately fail. By that stage of course, the city would then be sacked and pillaged by the convention of the age – not the best outcome. Similarly however, it is possible to honourably surrender once the breach has been opened, which would save both the city and the nucleus of the Aschenbach army from which they could rebuild for future campaigns. Either way, the campaign concludes in a major defeat. How to go – fighting to the last in defiance of all odds, or with a touch of dignity and humanity?
I was trying to decide, and then just thought “What the hell – I won’t decide!” Many people posting comments on this blog had good advice for both sides, so they can have the honour of deciding. The next few comments on the blog will be taken as a ‘council of war’ vote on how to resolve the siege (If there are no comments, I’ll flip a coin.) Good luck!