Small is Good

Nürnberg City Hall

April, 1635

 

“You can’t be serious?” Master Grünberg just couldn’t believe his ears. “You really want to leave all rifles to these . . . these . . . people?” His voice sounded like what he really wanted to say was “northern barbarians,” but in the end, his sense of propriety had taken over.

Ratsherr Hans Petzold, a famous master goldsmith and member of the city council, tried to calm him. “Listen, Master Grünberg, it’s a temporary measure. We currently cannot compete with Suhl and Magdeburg on rifles. With our traditional methods it simply takes too long to produce a single one, and even if ours are prettier, there aren’t many noblemen left that are willing to wait that long and able to pay twice the price just for a pretty exterior. If we are lucky, they buy their guns in Suhl and then ask us to ‘improve’ on it. Until we get the needed machines produced in Essen, we will have to learn and pass the time by making handguns. Small is good, for now. Getting all the information on the necessary steps to reproduce the new Dutch pepperboxes was expensive enough. Let’s not waste that investment. We have an order for 600 of them from a cavalry regiment in Berchtesgaden. That’s enough work for all of us to keep busy for months.”

Ferdinand Grünberg shook his grey head. “If you want to go ahead and concentrate on those pistols, fine. They sure are impressive and effective weapons. But I have been a Büchsenmacher all my life. Long rifles are my specialty and I will continue making them.”

“You will go broke making them.”

“Let that be my problem. I am 55 years old, a widower, and I do not have an heir. I have saved enough over the last dozen years to last me for ages. So I’ll let you gentlemen worry about your own affairs. Look at it this way: Now the 600 ordered pistols will employ everyone else even longer. Good night to you.”

For a moment, the Ratsherr was tempted to involve his colleagues to make it a formal order. But in the end he figured Grünberg was right: it did mean more work for everyone else.

 

Nürnberg, Grünberg house

April, 1635

 

The next morning at sunrise, Master Grünberg sat at his table at the window, studying all the papers he had been able to acquire on the topic of up-time rifles, thanks to the efforts of a former apprentice of his who now was a journeyman in Suhl. He went through them one by one, stopping after each page, considering what he had seen and how it related to what he already knew. From time to time his eyes moved to the remains of an up-time shotgun he had bought cheaply last week. The stock and lock were still in very good shape, but some giant seemed to have squashed the two barrels. He got up and put the distracting thing into a bag that he put on a shelf, then sat down again.

He was halfway through the stack when Matthias Heckler, his journeyman, entered the workshop, with their single apprentice tagging along. Moritz Maus was fourteen and in his second year of apprenticeship. An orphan at age twelve, he very rarely smiled, almost as rarely as his master. As always, Heckler had bought fresh bread rolls and a couple of broadsheets.

“Good morning, Master Grünberg!”

“Good morning, Matthias. Moritz.”

As he had done every day for the last years, Heckler put the bread rolls and the broadsheets on the table, then went downstairs to the shortest of the three dry caves that reached into the stone of the mountain Nürnberg castle was built upon, to fetch some cool milk and cheese. The longest one served as Grünberg’s shooting range (with the ‘range’ part being defined rather loosely), while the third was used for storing his black powder and guns. Meanwhile, Moritz set the table.

They were eating in silence, Matthias and Moritz reading the broadsheets, Master Grünberg continuing through his bundle of sheets on up-time guns. Once he was through with them, he looked at his journeyman.

“Anything important happening in the world?”

“Not really. But after his fifth beer someone who shall not be named told me yesterday evening that Master Kotter is making progress with his cartridge project. It seems the trick is to use just the right amount of silver in the mix and to seal them with shellac when the cartridge is completed, to keep the bullet more firmly in place and the powder dry.”

“So, how close is he to be able to actually produce workable brass cartridges?”

“Pretty close, I think, as long as we are talking about small numbers. From what I gathered, they need a lot of soldering and other work to come out right, and he still has to buy the primers from Grantville. So he will be hard-pressed to compete with U.S. Waffenfabrik once they get their production facility up and running. It’s frustrating, really. Whenever one of us has a bright idea, we get trumped by up-timer technology.”

Master Grünberg looked out of his window and down to the wall. “Maybe. And maybe not. If I understood you correctly last week, the Suhl people will have a few production lines, concentrating on cartridges for their most common guns.”

Heckler nodded. “That is my understanding, at least. These machines are really expensive. So you need to produce large batches to pay for them.”

“Which means that all that Master Kotter needs are small series of special guns he can concentrate on.” Grünberg frowned slightly. Then he picked through the bunch of sheets he had looked through before. Slowly, a grin started creeping up his face. Heckler raised an eyebrow.

” ‘Small is good’ said our revered Ratsherr yesterday. I think he might be partially right. Just not in the way he thinks about it. Let’s go to the arsenal.”

****

Like many weaponsmiths, Grünberg had elected to pay most of his taxes to the city by equipping the city guard with weapons. His specialty in this respect had been, for a long time, all kinds of Hakenbüchsen. Those were huge rifles (unlike their earlier smoothbore predecessors of the same name which became known as harquebuses in French), about two yards long, which would be used as wall guns. Those were either equipped with trunnions that could be locked to swivel mounts on city walls or with hooks (Haken) or spikes that could be rammed into the top of an earthen rampart to keep the weapon there and transfer the enormous recoil into the earth instead of the shoulder of the user. Most of Grünberg’s guns were especially long and had both options; they were thus called Doppelhaken. Unlike many of his colleagues in other cities, he had rather soon, after some experimentation to find the optimal bullet, settled on a single bore size and caliber of balls. His guns thus had very similar performance profiles.

Traditionally, those very precise guns were used to snipe at enemy generals (who rarely came into range of the walls any more, though) and, more importantly, sappers and the crews of siege guns and mortars. At five hundred yards, the heavy bullets the gun fired could still cut through most provisional fortifications put up by enemy sappers. Recently however, Hauptmann Reinhold Gerber, captain of the city watch and an old friend of Grünberg, had told him that due to the increased range of the USE artillery, his Hakenbüchsen had lost most of their tactical value and they would soon have to require him to deliver normal rifles instead. Grünberg had been rather upset when he received that news.

Sure, he could easily afford to pay his taxes in cash and not even feel any effects. This was not about money; it was about pride. The pride of a man who had until recently made some of the best rifles in the world and now was relegated to amateur status. That would be hard to accept for anybody. For Grünberg, whose only wife had died giving birth to a stillborn son years ago, his work was all he had left. By now, though, he started to suspect that that dark cloud had a huge silver lining to it. Or was it a golden lining?

***

As Grünberg had expected, Hauptmann Gerber was at the city arsenal, inspecting part of the weaponry. Since the guard was well-acquainted with the master weaponsmith, he had no problem being admitted, while Matthias and Moritz waited at the entrance.

Gott zum Gruße, Hauptmann Gerber!” Given that he visited his friend in his official capacity, there was no way he would address him by his given name.

Gerber raised his eyebrows for a moment, then smiled. He knew Grünberg well enough to understand the reason for the formality and to feel that he had overcome his righteous anger at Gerber’s decision not to employ Hakenbüchsen any longer.

“Master Grünberg. A pleasure to see you here. How can I help you?”

“I wanted to talk with you about my Hakenbüchsen.” He held up a hand. “No, don’t worry. I am not trying to convince you to keep them in service when they can’t perform their task any longer.”

“That is very understanding of you. So what about these guns?”

“Well, you know, you might not have much use for them anymore. But when making them I gave them my very best, each time. Every single one of them is worthy of a master, I think.”

“No doubt about that. It really is a shame they have lost their defensive value for us. And of course they are too heavy to use in the field.”

“Still, they are my children and I don’t want to see them melted down to make muskets out of them—or pistols for that Scottish colonel. So I want to buy them back.”

Gerber grinned. “Hm. So you mean to pay the taxes you avoided by giving us the guns?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. You got years of good service out of them. A decade, for some of them. No, I am going to pay you what you’d get from a metal collector.”

Gerber considered the demand, but only for a moment. While not a guild in the formal sense, the weapon makers were quite influential in the city. Having good relations with them was especially important for the city watch. Given the insult Grünberg must have felt when he was informed of the new tactical realities, this offer was the perfect way for all concerned to save face. And if the deal lost the city council a few thaler, it was still worth it.

Einverstanden. Last time I checked, there were 24 of your long guns here at the arsenal. Let’s see if we can find them all . . .

****

After Matthias and Moritz had dragged a little wagon filled with the guns up the hill to Grünberg’s house, they took the time for a second breakfast, consisting of a glass of beer, some bread, and a little bacon.

“So what are your plans for these guns, Master Grünberg?”

“Plans?”

“Don’t look at me like that. I have known you for years now. You are up to something.”

Grünberg only smiled in response. It always had been difficult to keep a secret from Matthias, but by now it was near impossible. So he simply put a sheet of paper in front of the two. Moritz whistled when he finally understood what he saw.

“That is a pretty big gun,” was all he could say. And he was right. The 1918 T-Gewehr was a big gun. For a shoulder-fired weapon, the first anti-tank rifle in the world was simply massive. Still shorter than a Doppelhaken, though.

“We’ll start smaller. As I said: small is good.”

“Say rather ‘small is relative,’ ” intervened Matthias. “If I understand you correctly, you want to transform your Doppelhaken in something like an up-time sniper rifle, modeled after this monster?”

“Exactly. After all, they are the closest thing we have to sniper rifles down-time. The barrels are already there, and rifled all in the same identical caliber. I did a quick check of the two oldest ones while you were washing your hands. They were well cared for, and their steel barrels still look perfect. That’s most of the work already done. Now we simply need to add on the other parts to transform them into reliable breechloaders able to shoot brass cartridges.”

Moritz snorted. “Simply.”

“The T-Gewehr is really a simple weapon. Ingenious in its details, but simple. Which is why I chose it as a model.” Grünberg smiled again. In fact, he might have smiled as often today as he had during most of the year to this date. Thus was the power of inspiration.

Matthias had a more practical concern: “Let’s say we are able to complete these ‘small’ versions of that monster. Though, if I understand these numbers here right, unless we cut down your Doppelhaken a lot, the end result won’t be any smaller than that. A little more slender, maybe, but possibly even heavier. Bigger caliber, definitely, though with black powder it will be less powerful overall. And let’s assume you get Master Kotter to make brass cartridges for them. The question remains: Who do you want to sell them to? Our city guard won’t want them, especially after you tricked old Gerber to sell them to you for scrap value. The USE Army and the SoTF National Guard have their own sniper rifles. But if we sell those to Bavaria, in addition to the pistols, we might start a war of annexation by the USE. Then there is Bohemia, but I think Wallenstein wants to build up his own, independent weapons industry to compete with us, so he is out, too. Who does that leave?”

“Salzburg, Tyrol, or—most likely—Swabia. More precisely, the Count of Hohenrechberg. My masterpiece as a journeyman was a hunting rifle for his father, so he should know my work. They are basically next door, and he is building a nice little army in his part of the province. As the official head of a provincial military force, he might even  have simplified access to Grantville technology. More importantly, as vice-administrator, he controls most of the ironworks of the Aalen area. We are already getting more iron from them than from our traditional suppliers in the Oberpfalz. They are planning to modernize their foundries soon, in order to produce serious amounts of high quality steel. So I can see lots of potential for cooperation in future weapons projects.”

“Like a real T-Gewehr, you mean?” Matthias deadpanned, his amusement still shining through his eyes.

Moritz couldn’t help himself, he had to jump up and clap his hands together. “Yes!” he cried out, with the biggest smile anybody had ever seen on his face.

Maybe small wasn’t that good, all things considered, thought Master Grünberg.

****

“After two bottles of my best wine, Master Kotter is on board. In fact, he is as enthusiastic about the project as Moritz,” Grünberg told his crew the next morning with a wink. “Now, I showed you yesterday how to separate the barrels and how to shorten them. Moritz, the remainder of the week you will separate as many of them as you can. Matthias will help you with the first two. After that, he will cut them down to the right length. Meanwhile, I will work on a related project.”

“A related project?” asked Matthias.

“I think I found a good use for the cut-offs. Not telling yet. You’ll find out soon enough, if it works.”

Matthias looked at a bag sitting on Grünberg’s workbench. “I guess the content of that bag is related to your new project?”

“Right you are. But I’ll take both the cut-offs and that bag with me downstairs.” Grünberg had a second workroom on the underground level attached to the caves. It got lots of light, especially during the afternoon hours, and he used it when he wanted some quiet and could count on Matthias to keep an eye on Moritz upstairs. “Get to work!”

****

By Saturday afternoon, Moritz had detached all twenty-four barrels, and Matthias had cut down most of them from slightly over seven feet to about five feet, when Master Grünberg called them downstairs to his shooting range. On the shooter’s table, they could see something under a big piece of cloth. Strangely, at the end of the short range stood not the usual target, but an old, worm-eaten table lying on the side, top towards them.

“Please put on your ear protectors,” Grünberg ordered.

Once everybody, including himself, had his ears covered, he picked up the package and stepped behind the bar separating the entrance area from the shooting range proper. When he dropped the cloth, his back still covered its contents from sight.

BOOM! Crack! BOOM! Crack!

The whole cave was reverberating from the two blasts that had come within half a second—and the table that had served as a target was reduced to splinters. Grünberg turned back to his team and looked into wide-open eyes and even wider mouths. “What . . .” both started asking, then stopped, looking at the small object in Grünberg’s hand.

Grünberg grinned, pushed on a button, snapped the weapon open and turned it upside down. Two big brass cartridges, still smoking, dropped to the ground. “Given the unusual caliber, Master Kotter found it easier to start with shotgun shells. The up-timers call this a coach gun, I think. While they used longer barrels, at short range the one-inch caliber is devastating enough, as you have witnessed. And for every sharpshooter, an observer would need an easily-portable weapon of his own. Matthias took in the gun, especially its broad but short barrels—at one foot long they were closer to those of a contemporary cavalry pistol than a real shotgun. Well, you could still call it a sawed-off version of a shotgun. Then he looked at the stock and lock more closely. “Is that . . .”

Grünberg nodded. “Yes. The remains of the up-time shotgun I bought. Its caliber was close enough that I could get it to fit after some fiddling. Wouldn’t hold the pressures of an up-time smokeless cartridge, but as you have seen, I got it to fit closely enough that outgassing is not a problem. So what do you think?”

He looked at Moritz who was still standing there, eyes wide, but with another huge grin now spreading across his face.

Maybe small was good, after all?

****

Master Kotter and Ratsherr Petzold are historic down-timers.

Everyone else is invented or a blend of different down-timers.

A contemporary Doppelhaken from Suhl can be seen here: http://www.engerisser.de/Bewaffnung/weapons/Doublehackbut.html

Master Grünberg’s guns would be a little longer, but not much.

****

 

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