Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Decisive Battles: Hattin 1187

Hattin (or "Horns of Hattin") Dates: 3-4 JUL 1187 (24-25 Jumada al-awwal, 583)Forces Engaged: Kingdom of Jerusalem; Here's what we know; The army of the "Frankish" Kingdom of Jerusalem was composed of a fairly large number of footsoldiers and two kinds of cavalry; light (known as "turcopoles") and heavy - the armored knight of song and story.

But, as always with pre-Industrial Era armies, we begin with some frankly ridiculous contemporary estimates.

For example, the correspondent of the Archumbald letter (see below) states that the Saracen host numbered 80,000; we know that Saladin never had an army half that size. The account of Hattin contained in the manuscript of Ralph of Coggeshall uses the term "innumerable turcopoles" to describe the number of mercenary light cavalry.

This is just the usual sorts of numbers you get when you're dealing with people who don't deal with numbers much.

But...the same Coggeshall account also gives us some fairly decent sounding estimates. The number of heavy chivalric cavalry - "knights" - is put at 1,200 in the Coggeshill manuscript.

This sounds reasonable, given the numbers we know from other battles fought by the Kingdom of Jerusalem. What we don't know is whether this number represented the total of heavy armored horsemen, or if the 1,200 would have had a small retinue of mounted squires and sergeants/men-at-arms.

But let's start with that as a round number.

The "turcopoles" are more problematic. The Wiki entry gives their number at 500, which seems understrength. These guys were mercenary light horse, often mounted archers, and the poulain nobility of Jerusalem had been fighting Muslims in the Levant for almost 100 years, and understood that a force of heavy cavalry and infantry would be shot to pieces by mounted archers without the ability to reply. However, another Wiki entry suggests 4,000, which seems too great. The most reasonable size for the light cavalry contingent seems to be similar to the heavies. So let's guess about 1,000 mounted troops armed with bow, lance, sword-and-shield.

The infantry - a mixed bag of feudal levy men-at-arms with sword-and-shield, spear, or similar hand weapons, mercenary cross- and short-bowmen, as well as the usual odds-and-sods of engineers and artificers, are reported in the Libellus (also more of which in a bit) to have numbered 18,000. This seems high, but possible.

So our final guesstimate comes out to be; 1,200 heavy cavalry, about 1,000 light cavalry, and somewhere between 15,000 to 18,000 mixed melee and missile-firing infantry, a total of 17,200 to 20,200 all arms under the notional command of Guy of Lusignan, King of Jerusalem.

Ayyubid Sultanate: We honestly have no idea of the breakdown of the Ayyubid forces. These included heavy and light armored cavalry and light armed foot troops; Ayyubid footsoldiers included everything from Armenian mercenary spearmen and archers, Nubian archers and javelinmen to Arab militia, and it is unlikely that Saladin would have brought many of them to an open-field engagement.

We know that Saladin led a force at least as great as the forces of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, or his chroniclers would have reported the stunning upset of the larger Frankish force by the smaller. But we can discount the Archumbald letter's silly number of 80,000.

All the chroniclers agree that late in the engagement the Ayyubid troops surrounded the army of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Even assuming that casualties had reduced the size of the Christian force, Saladin must have had something like at least a 1-1 or better advantage in numbers at that point to do this.

So my guess is that the Islamic force started the day somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 and possibly as many as 30,000; probably as much as 60-70 percent of this force would have been mounted, including heavy mamluk cavalry from Turkey and Egypt, and heavy armored professional soldiers from the Tigris Valley, Syria and both Kurdish and Turkish Anatolia armed with lance, sword, shield and bow. Light cavalry would have included Berber, Arab, and Turcoman horsemen armed with a mixture of horse bows, crossbows, shield-and-sword or shield-and-spear.

So: my best guess? About 7,000 heavy cavalry, 7,000 to 10,000 light to medium cavalry, perhaps 6-8,000 melee and missile-firing infantry; 20,000 to 25,000 all arms under Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb - the first Ayyubid Sultan of Egypt and Syria, better known to the West as "Saladin"The Sources: Like all ancient and medieval events, the constant problem is the scarcity and veracity of the historical sources. Hattin is no exception.Compounding the problem when dealing with warfare in pre-literate times is that the scarcity of documentary evidence exacerbates the problem with warfare in any time, which is to say that "the victor writes the histories" is never truer than for battles fought before the day of nearly-universal literacy. Only a handful of people could record the events in a way that would be preserved accurately, and most of them had some sort of axe to grind.

In this case, we have more problems than usual, because beyond the usual two sides we have personal, sectarian, and factional quarrels overlaying the fundamental Christian-Muslim antagonism.

But let's try and lay out the primary sources.

From the army of the Kingdom of Jerusalem we have two, almost contemporary, manuscripts.

The first is from an unnamed author who seems to have been either an eyewitness or someone who spoke to a participant soon after. The original of this document, called "De Expugatione Terrae Sanctae per Saladinum Libellus" (hereafter referred to as "Libellus"), has been lost. A version is transcribed by one Ralph, monk and later sixth abbot (1207-1218) of the Cistercian abbey of Coggeshall in Essex, in his Chronicon Anglicanum. His portion of this "History of England" begins with the year 1187 and contains the account of Hattin, probably obtained as a manuscript from another Cistercian foundation where the original author deposited it or, as may well have been the case, dictated it.

Of the second we know the name of the author - "Ernoul" - who describes himself as a servant (meaning probably a squire or an armed retainer) of Balian of Ibelin, one of the more prominent of the poulain nobility present at Hattin. This "Chronicle of Ernoul" is not now a single document but a number of separate but similar manuscripts.

The original, which is not extant today, seems to have been written some time between the 1230s to the 1250s. Scholars have suggested that the man Ernoul himself wrote only the portions discussing the events of 1186 and 1187, in which Balian and the Ibelin family are featured.

This manuscript is known, then, from 13th century Old French translation of the Latin historical work of William of Tyre, a mid- to late-12th century historian of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. I say this with deliberation; the Latin copies of the original end with the events of 1184. The first versions of Ernoul's account can be traced to the French copies, made around 1223. This version, commonly known as the Estoire de Eracles, was widely circulated in Europe. Further translations included Spanish, in the late 13th century and Middle English, made by William Caxton in the 15th century. Ironically, the Old French version was translated back into Latin by Francesco Pipino during the Rennaissance!

To give you just an idea of the complexity of tracing the provenance of these texts,
I refer you to the Wiki entry for "Ernoul":
"One of the more important manuscripts is known as the Lyon Eracles, which is the basis of modern editions. It was edited by Morgan as La Continuation de Guillaume de Tyr (1183–1197). This manuscript continues until 1248, and the section containing the years 1184–1197 is not found in any other manuscript. The 19th century Receuil des historiens des croisades, a collection of crusade texts compiled by the Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres, used a different version of the Eracles known as the Colbert-Fontainebleau Eracles. There is also a shorter manuscript known as the abrégé, and a Florentine Eracles from the Laurentian Library in Florence which has a unique section from 1191 to 1197 and continues until 1277.

The text known as The Chronicle of Ernoul and Bernard the Treasurer, edited by L. de Mas Latrie in the 19th century, has a separate manuscript tradition. It is essentially the same as the abrégé, and appears to have been produced from the French translation of William of Tyre, which was then mostly removed except for a few sections. It carries on until 1227 or 1231, depending on the manuscript.
Whew.

Anyway, the other Christian sources include numerous letters written to Western notables, including one to Archumbald, the Hospitaler master in Italy that contains a brief description of the battle itself. This letter does not include information on the surrender of Ascalon, suggesting that it was written within 60 days of the battle - Ascalon fell on 4 SEP 1187.

From the Ayyubid side of the hill we have two major eyewitness works. The first, Muhammad ibn Hamed Isfahani, better known as Imad ad-din al-Isfahani, was the personal secretary to Saladin.

This character was the perfect office pogue, working first for vizier ibn Hubayra, then the qadi (chief judge) of Damascus, Kamal ad-Din, then chancellor for Zengid Nur ad-Din, and eventually entered the service of Saladin (who was Sultan of Egypt at the time).

Imad was one of the sultan's favorites, and after his death began writing laudatory biographies of Saladin, including the "Kitab al-Barq al-Shami", now lost but abridged by Ali al-Bundari al-Isfahani as "Sana’l-Bark al-Shami" in 1225. Imad's surviving work, "al-Fath al-Qussi fi-l-Fath al-Qudsi" is another uncritical account of the early Ayyubid period.

The second significant Muslim source is the work of Ibn al Athir, the "Kamil at Tawarikh" or History of the World. His work is important not just because he was present at Hattin, and had access to many other Muslim primary sources now lost, but because he is much more objective regarding the Ayyubids than Imad al Din. Regarding his Christian enemies he had no such complexity. His account is scornful of the Franks and makes the bizarre claim that women were among the Christian crusaders. Despite this, Al Athir's work is a useful counterweight to the hagiography of Imad ad Din.

Of the numerous secondary and modern sources, one of the most ingenious I encountered researching this post was a monograph entitled "The Battle of Hattin Revisited", published by Benjamin Z. Kedar in The Horns of Hattin: Proceedings of the Second Conference of the Society of the Crusades and the Latin East in 1992. This publication, available on-line here, does perhaps the most complete, yet concise, job of any of the works I reviewed of summarizing the sources, the ground, and the inherent military probability of the battle. I highly recommend it.

Among the most respected secondary sources would have to be Steven Runciman's A History of the Crusades. You would want Volume 2, which covers the Kingdom of Jerusalem between the First Crusade and Hattin. First published in the Fifties but still well respected. Numerous works in English; a very accessible period.

And, of course, if crusading blood, thunder, lust, and drama are your thing, Ridley Scott's "Kingdom of Heaven" does a fine job of taking the events of 1187 and torquing them completely out of recognition. But his Queen Sybilla is portrayed by Eva Green as The Red Hot Hootchie Mama of 1187 so we can have some libidinous writhing; you can't make a bible/gladiator movie without libidinous writhing - it's just not done.
The Campaign: You could say that the Hattin campaign began in the French town of Clermont in 1095. There, in July, Pope Urban II gave a sermon to a large audience of French nobles and clergy at the papal Council of Clermont. This speech was full of delightfully gory details of the atrocities the Muslims were inflicting on Western pilgrims and eastern (Orthodox) Christians. Five versions of this pep talk are known; all were written at least four years later, after the subsequent fall of Jerusalem to the First Crusade, so it's hard to be sure what Urban really said and what was retconned after the successful campaign.

Four of the five generally agree that Urban talked about the problem of feudal violence in Europe, of helping the "Greek" Christians (whose emperor, Alexi I Comnenus, had asked Urban for assistance); and about the crimes being committed against Christian pilgrims and residents in the Holy Land. The crux of Urban's biscuit was a new kind of war - a holy war, in essence an armed pilgrimage, which, like any pilgrimage, would end in the remission of sins.

The listeners may have responded with roars of "Deus vult!" (God wills it!)...or not; this little detail is included in only one of the five - you see what I mean.

But whatever Urban said, the response was certainly overwhelming.After the initial, pathetic "People's (or Peasant's) Crusade" had been raped, butchered, and enslaved (whilst raping, butchering, and looting themselves) all across eastern Europe and Asia Minor, a group of some 30,000 professional feudal fighting men crossed Byzantium, fought their way down the Levantine coast and in July, 1096, captured Jerusalem. The leaders of the group - Count Raymond of Toulouse from southern France, Godfrey de Bouillon and his brother Baldwin from the Rhineland, and the Norman leaders Robert, William the Conqueror's eldest son, Bohemond Guiscard, and his nephew Tancred from Norman south Italy - met and chose Godfrey as the new leader of the new Kingdom of Jerusalem.

The reason for this astonishing success are as complex as the reasons crusading was proposed, and caught on, in Europe. But the new "crusader states: had caught the Levantine portion of the Islamic world at a bad time, and had profited from the confusion.

The initial wave of Islam that had stormed out of the Arabian peninsula in the 7th and early 8th Centuries had fragmented into many, often quarrelsome, polities. The main opponents of the First Crusaders, the Seljuq Turks, had only recently taken Jerusalem from the Fatimid Caliphate of Egypt. The Islamic rulers of the Levant didn't see these crusaders as the primary threat, at first, and this lack of unity and focus wasn't dealt with for another fifty years. The Islamic world needed someone to pull its fractured parts together and focus on these interlopers.

In the 12th Century the principals of this Islamic Reconquista were growing up in the Kurdish region of Armenia; the brothers Najm ad-Din Ayyub and "Shirkuh", soldiers, tough guys, and father - and uncle - to the future Saladin.

The latter was the boy who set about reunifying the Islamic Levant. In the 1170s he took the place of the Fatimid caliph in Egypt as sultan, secured Syria, and then moved north against the Great Seljuqs. Middle Eastern politics was complex in the 12th Century, with crusader state factions combining with Muslim factions against other Christians whilst Zengeri, Fatimid, and Ayyubid factions treated with crusaders against each other.But in the 1180s two major changes occurred.

The first was that Saladin consolidated his hold on the Muslim Levant, making the Ayyubid Sultanate the only real power in the Islamic house and ending the factional fighting that allowed the Kings of Jerusalem (and other crusader-state leaders) to play Muslim off against Muslim.And the other was that Baldwin V, King of Jerusalem, died a child of nine.

The last of the male line of the Kings of Jerusalem that had held the city since Godfrey was gone. Into his place stepped a turbulent young woman, Sibylla, Queen of Jerusalem, and her husband, a pliant, indecisive young man, Guy of Lusignan. The reason that this otherwise charming but lightweight noble was important is because of the effect that his coronation had on the balance of power within the Kingdom.

Since 1099 a slow but steady process domiciled European fighting men (and a smaller group of tag-along artisans, merchants, and laborers) to the "Kingdom of Jerusalem", largely in the cities. The bulk of the population remained, then as today, a heterodox mixture of Arab and Levantine Muslim, Druze, Eastern and Latin Christian peasants, smallholders, traders, and craftspeople. But the domiciled Europeans that we refer to generically as crusaders and their European counterparts called poulains (actually an insult to the local military gentry, from a term equating the offspring of the unions of Western men and Syrian or Palestinian women with mongrel wild animals) were the core of the armed force of the new Kingdom.Fighting men would journey to "Outremer" and fight for a season, or two, and then go home. But the domiciled Christians, both secular knights and the men of the religious orders of knighthood, the Knights Templar, Knights Hospitaller, Teutonic Knights and several other, smaller orders, were the primary defense of the Kingdom.There were never enough, and never adaptable enough. None of the crusader states ever had sufficient force to open the interior, and the coastal strip that confined them was too crowded and too sere to support the land-tenure society that European feudalism depended on. And where the poulains might have opened up into trade, or adapted their military system to an urban society, the tenets of feudalism were just too strong. The Kingdom remained a "colony", and the colonialists too few to defend it if the surrounding Muslim states ever acted in concert.

So the Kingdom of Jerusalem, like the other crusader states, depended on a steady rotation of armed men from the West. But these cherry crusaders often despised and disregarded the firstcomers as soft, "Easternized" children - another translation of poulain is "kid" - who had lost their Christian fervor, preferring to compromise and consort with the infidels rather than fight them.

It was of one group of these newcomers that the new King of Jerusalem emerged. The coronation of Guy placed the "Poitevin" party (the name is derived from the native Poitou region of the Lusignan family) at the top of the feudal order in the Kingdom. This intensified the rivalry between transient and domiciled crusaders, and, in particular, fired the rivalry between Guy's Poitevin supporters and the poulain faction that collected around Raymond III, Count of Tripoli.

The part of Guy and the Poitevin accession that the poulains most objected to was the way these fucking new guys just couldn't seem to keep from stirring things up. Perhaps the most notorious - certainly the most aggressive - of these characters was the man they called the "Lord of Kerak"; Raynald of Châtillon.

Raynald sounds like one of those people who would have been a right bastard if he had been raised by saintly monks. Instead he came from a poor family in a bloody-handed feudal society. And, beginning as a violent, ill-tempered man, he was captured and imprisoned for more than a decade.

Some men emerge from their cells having used their enforced confinment to broaden their outlook and deepen their souls. Raynald went in greedy and vicious, and emerged greedy, vicious, and stupid in the way that greedy, vicious men are often stupid; he thought with his penis, and with his sword-arm. The concerns of his king, his kingdom, and his peers were just that - other people's problems. Raynald had no time to worry about that. He had wealth to gain and his captivity to avenge.

Raynald's castles of Kerak and Montfort controlled the caravan routes between Egypt and Damascus. In 1181 Raynald's attacks brought on war between Saladin and the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1182. Then the enterprising bastard hammered up a fleet of pirate ships and sailed off with the idea of sacking Mecca!

His buccaneers were beaten back just in time, the survivors captured and executed, but Raynald got away clean. Which really pissed Saladin off.

So he invaded the Kingdom.

The 1182 campaign is instructive. Saladin crossed the Jordan River, sacked and burned, took prisoners, tried to draw the crusaders into a general engagement. The Kingdom forces - then led by Baldwin IV - wouldn't play. After a few Ayyubid raids Saladin led his men back across the river once provisions and supplies ran low.

In 1186 Raynald again attacked the Damascus caravan, breaking the truce between Saladin and the Kingdom.Saladin had finally had enough.

After Guy's ascention in the summer of 1186, Count Raymond had made a deal with Saladin, probably in hopes of using this as a lever to pry the Poitevins' hands off the controls in Jerusalem.

Guy's response was to sent a deputation which included Gerard of Ridefort, master of the Knights Templar, Roger de Moulins, master of the Knights Hospitaller, Balian of Ibelin, Joscius, Archbishop of Tyre, and Reginald Grenier, lord of Sidon to try and co-opt Raymond and cut out Saladin.

At the same time Saladin had sent a detatchment of about 7,000 to Tiberias under one of his sons, al-Afdal. Raymond let this element to pass through Tiberias 30 APR 1187, hoping, one would imagine, that the raid would damage the prestige of Raynald and the Poitevin party. Or this may have been a pure "show of force" and reconnaissance to have a look at the northern part of the Kingdom.

But Gerard, hearing of the Muslim move while on the road, assembled about 130 knights; the garrisons of the Templar commanderies of Qaqun and al-Fulah, and royal knights posted at Nazareth, and moved out towards Tiberias with the other leaders of the royal embassy (except Balian, stopping off to pleasure the missus in Nablus, and Reginald, who was off doing something, um, important).

The two forces met at a place called Cresson, now called 'Ain Gozeh, near Nazareth, on 1 MAY 1187.

The battle accounts differ considerably from one another, just as in the case of Hattin (as we will see) and historians have never been really determined what happened that day.

Some accounts say that the forces suprised each other and the Muslims immediately bolted. Given the size of al-Adil's force this shouldn't have fooled Gerard - Arab and Turkish horsemen had used the feigned flight tactic since Attila was a suckling. But the Templar seems to have been an intemperate man and he ordered his little force to attack the fleeing Muslims. De Moulins protested but was overruled and his sense was quickly vindicated. The crusader cavalry pursued until they were "blown" - their horses exhausted. Then the Muslim force turned and butchered them.

Some sources claim that the Franks sighted the massive Ayyubid force and Gerard, a man of steely nerve and very little sense, immediately piled into them, in essence committing public mass suicide.But at least one account, the "Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi", says that Gerard's entire force (which it estimates at 500, by the way...) was simply ambushed.

You get the idea of the difficulty of trying to reconstruct these battles tactically.

Either way, Gerard was wounded, but survived. Roger did not, and most of the little crusader force was killed as well. Balian, still dragging along behind, got to the castle of La Fève where he was supposed to meet the religious orders and found nobody. He send our man Ernoul out to scout around and so heard the news from the few survivors.

Raymond, perhaps horrified by the results of his political maneuvering, met the embassy at Tiberias went back to Jerusalem with them. He publicly acknowledged Guy as King of Jerusalem and agreed to place himself under orders for the coming campaign against the Ayyubids.

The little massacre at Cresson had killed more than a handful of warrior monks, however. It killed any hope of real cooperation between the powerful Count of Tripoli and the Poitevin faction - obviously especially Gerard - who considered Raymond a traitor. So when Saladin moved on Tiberias again in June the command group of the army of the Kingdom that faced him was badly, probably fatally, fractured.The Engagement: The two forces looked about like this on the morning of 2 JUL 1187:

The Kingdom of Jerusalem force was encamped around the town of La Sephorie, about 6 kilometers (4 mi) north-northwest of Nazareth. This place, now called Tzippori by its Israeli masters, was also the Springs of Saffuriya. Take note of the springs; they'll be important later.Part of the Ayyubid forces were investing the keep of Tiberias, having stormed the city that morning. The main Muslim army remained at Kafr Sabt, about 10km to the southwest. The "Libellus" reports that the Muslim troops roamed throughout the region, burning, and they desecrated the sanctuary at summit of Mt. Tabor.

Saladin himself rode west to La Saforie to try and lure the Franks out, and reports in a letter dated later that summer that he went on to search "in the plain of Lubiya" - that is, near the Horns of Hattin - for a good place to engage the forces of the Kingdom.Raymond's wife Eschiva was in the citadel, and was probably one of the drafters of a letter that Saladin undoubted allowed to pass through to the main crusader army pleading for a relief force.

This letter arrived in La Sephorie sometime during the day, and a council of war was held there the night of July 2. Here's what "Libellus" says took place:
"Toward evening on Thursday, July 2, the King of Jerusalem, after he bad heard the Galileans' letter, called together all the leaders of the army so that they might give council concerning the action to be taken. They all advised that at dawn they should march out, accompanied by the Lord's cross, ready to fight the enemy, with all the men armed and arrayed in battle formation. Thus arrayed they would relieve the city of Tiberias.

The Count of Tripoli, when he heard this, spoke: "Tiberias is my city and my wife is there. None of you is so fiercely attached, save to Christianity, as I am to the city. None of you is so desirous as I am to succor or aid Tiberias. We and the King, however, should not move away from water, food, and other necessities to lead such a multitude of men to death from solitude, hunger, thirst, and scorching heat. You are well aware that since the heat is searing and the number of people is large, they could not survive half a day without an abundance of water. Furthermore, they could not reach the enemy without suffering a great shortage of water, accompanied by the destruction of men and of beasts.

"Stay, therefore, at this midway point, close to food and water, for certainly the Saracens have risen to such heights of pride that when they have taken the city, they will not turn aside to left or right, but will head straight through the vast solitude to us and challenge us to battle. Then our men, refreshed and filled with bread and water, will cheerfully set out from camp for the fray. We and our horses will be fresh; we will be aided and protected by the Lord's cross. Thus we will fight mightily against an unbelieving people who will be wearied by thirst and who will have no place to refresh themselves.""Thus you see that if, in truth, the grace of Jesus Christ remains with us, the enemies of Christ's cross, before they can get to the sea or return to the river, will be taken captive or else killed by sword, by lance, or by thirst. But if, which God forbid, things were perchance to go against us, we have our ramparts here to which we could flee..."

But the saying of wisdom: "Woe to the land whose King is a child and whose citizens dine in the morning " was fulfilled in them. For our young King followed youthful counsel, while our citizens, in hatred and jealousy, ate their neighbors' meat. They departed from the advice which would have saved them and others. Because of their foolishness and simple­mindedness they lost land, people, and selves."
Because of the partisan nature of the Kingdom's council it is difficult to be sure that Raymond said this, or anything like this. But what does seem to be likely is that the Count of Tripoli's council was one of delay and defense of some sort and that he was accused of cowardice, probably led by Gerard and Raynald. Someone, again, probably these two, influenced Guy to move to attack immediately. King Guy was also probably influenced by his disgrace back in 1183 for acting defensively, and also possibly needing a general engagement to justify the hiring of mercenaries with money he had accepted from Henry II of England.

For whatever of these reasons, Guy made up his mind to march to Tiberias, and the army of the Kingdom marched out of La Sephorie on the morning of 3 JUL 1187.

Here's what we know;

The crusader army with left La Saforie early on 3 JUL needing to move about 30 klicks. While armies of the time were not as road-bound as later forces, it isn't unreasonable to assume that the force followed the smoothest route to the east, and this was very probably a (possibly) Roman road that passed La Saforie from the northwest or another road that ascended the rising ground from Saforie east-southeast to Mashhad.
One of the Old French continuations of William of Tyre says that some sergeants of the Frankish army captured, tortured and burnt an old Muslim woman at the distance of "2 leagues" from Nazareth. This supports the La Saforie-Mashad movement, for Mashhad is about 2 leagues northeast of Nazareth. But the route that led from La Saforie northward and then eastward along the old Roman road would have been easier, and just a likely for a force with a long hump on a hot day ahead of them.

All the chroniclers agree that the morning's march was hot, and that Muslim probing and harassing attacks began immediately.

Saladin wrote that near midday the crusaders "took one of the waters by marching to it and turning aside" but then "left the water and set out towards Tiberias."

This has traditionally been assumed to have been the spring of Tur'an, then located about 3 klicks north of the old Roman road.

The decision to leave Tur'an has also been traditionally cited as one of the keys to the disaster. But Kedar makes the point that discharge of `Ayn Tur'an today is
"a mere fraction of that of the springs of Saforie or Hattin. One may surmise, therefore, that the spring above Tur'an, while able to quell the thirst of a number of Franks on 3 July 1187, was insufficient to sustain an army numbering many thousands of men and horses. Whatever King Guy's blunders, the move from Tur'an was hardly one of them."
The army of the Kingdom then moved about 3 or 4 klicks east of Tur'an, at which point Saladin is said to have sent the units of his nephew Taqi al-Din, and those of Muzaffar al-Din, to seize "the water" (presumably the springs at Hattin, but possibly Tur'an, or possibly both).

Taqi al–Din is reported by the Muslim sources in command of the Muslim right, Muzaffar al-Din the left, with Saladin directly commanding the center. This suggests that the crusader force was encircled from midday on 3 JUL until the end of the battle.

The Muslim chronicler al-Muqaddasi says just this, and his and at least one of the Christian sources combine to suggest that the Ayyubid forces were advancing from the high ground to the west or southwest into the valley of Tur'an against the eastward-moving crusaders.Here the sources critically disagree. The "Libellus" says that Count Raymond, on point, reached the slope break near the Sea of Galilee and advised a full-on attack eastwards to break out. The writer of the manuscript says that King Guy first said "go", then changed his mind and gave orders to halt and camp.

To a modern soldier the notion of "camping" in the middle of close combat seems insane, but the "camp" seems to have had some sort of Boer-laager-like qualities that partially fortified the Christian defense. Regardless, the "Libellus" says that Raymond insisted that halting on the arid plateau was disastrous.But...one of the versions of William of Tyre says it was Raymond who advised the king to wheel left, descend on Hattin village and the springs there, and stop until the next morning. Other versions have Raymond advising Guy to camp on the plateau itself. All Old French versions accuse Raymond of "mauvais consel" - bad advice.

Regardless of who gave the order, all the Christian sources agree that the halt was not a good idea. The "Libellus" goes on to say that the crusaders overnight position was at "casale called Marescalcia"; this agrees with a legal document drafted by the Kingdom council later that summer that states that the fight took place "...supra manescalciam Tyberiadis." This place is fairly convincingly identified by Kedar as the ruined village of Maskana. He states that near this village - probably occupied in 1187 - was a pool called "Birkat Maskana".

Kedar says that this pool was "...originally a crater. About 40 by 40 meters in extent, it is surrounded by large basalt stones, with traces of a water inlet at the northeastern corner. A Roman milestone, now in the museum of Kibbutz Deganya Beth, was found close to it."

So on the night of 3/4 JUL the crusader army camped on or near the Roman road to Tiberias, around a small village, drawing the limited water available in the rain-water pool of Birkat Maskana and some rock cisterns. The water wasn't enough, but there was some, making the decision to halt look less suicidal.

That night the Ayyubid force bivouaced at Lubiya, roughly 2 klicks southeast. They had water from the lake to the east, and most of the chronicles report that they gave the Franks a rough night, between lighting brishfires and harassing the camp with long-range bowfire. The morning looked to be an evil one for the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

But here's where we have a real problem; all the sources are contradictory, some trivially, some seriously, about the events of the battle that took place on 4 JUL. Kedar says flat out; "I believe it is impossible to establish the exact sequence of events during the ensuing battle." and proceeds to explain why he believes this:
"Two Latin sources insist that the battle began with a Templar attack that failed disastrously...However, the author of the "Libellus" mentions a similar event much later in the battle.
"As for the battle's end, few historians have been able to withstand the temptation to wind up their reconstruction with Ibn al-Athir's dramatic description of two successive Frankish downhill charges repulsed by two successive Muslim counterattacks that drove the Franks back up to the Horns of Hattin, the second counterdrive culminating in the overthrow of King Guy's tent, which marked the Frankish rout. Ibn al-Athir relies on the eyewitness account of Saladin's son al-Afdal. But a more mature eyewitness, `Imad al-Din, relates that after their cavalry charges had been repulsed, the Franks dismounted and continued to fight on foot.

So much for the battle's beginning and end. Regarding the rest, there is considerable agreement as to the main events - the scrub fire started by the Muslims, the escape of Raymond of Tripoli, the ascent to the horns - but not as to their sequence or cause."
I agree that there is considerable confusion regarding the course of the battle. But I believe that we can use the range of inherent military probability to sort out some rough timeline of events that hot day in July.

All the chroniclers agree that certain events took place. These events are:

1. The Muslim force set brush fires upwind of the encircled crusaders. These fires probably helped confuse the defenders and upset their command and control along with intensifying the problems of thirst.2. A Muslim element or elements attacked the religious orders holding the Christian rear, punishing them severely. This may have been preceded by an charge by the Templars which was defeated. Or not; the sources disagree on this.

3. Raymond of Tripoli either attacked to the east, or was ordered to attack eastwards by King Guy. This attack was allowed to pass through the Muslim encirclement, which closed behind it. Count Raymond and his point element - having taken some losses in the process of breaking out - then abandoned the fight and rode off as far as either Tyre or Tripoli.

4. The Christian footsoldiers were seperated, or abandoned, their cavalry, moving to occupy the heights of the Horns of Hattin and would not rejoin the cavalry.

5. The Christian mounted troops were either driven, or chose, to occupy the heights themselves, from which they made some charges downhill. These were, at least initially, dangerous attacks which the Ayyubid forces had to fight hard to beat back.

6. Finally, the Muslim force overwhelmed the remaining crusaders, killing almost all the footsoldiers and most of the mounted men, retaining only perhaps 2,000 to 3,000 or so for ransom, slavery, or forced conversion.So...here's what I think happened.

I think that part of the problem is that the chroniclers 1) couldn't see the entire field, and 2) came from literary traditions that emphasized sequential actions. I think that what actually happened was nearly simultaneous and in different parts of the field. So I think that the time confusion comes from different men trying to describe things that happened about the same time in different places.

I think that the day began with the Christians shaking out their formation in the attempt to fight their way through to the Sea of Galilee. They would have moved in a block or blocks - probably more than one, since trying to coordinate the movement of a mass of men 10,000-plus strong is something I, as a sergeant accustomed to marching troops, find quite nightmarish. So I suspect that the point element (or vanguard), the center (or van), and the rear element were probably distinct formations; the mounted troops in the center with infantrymen all around them.

This formation had worked for the crusading armies before and would again. The footmen provided missile fire to suppress the Muslim horse archers, and a firm base of support for the entire group. The cavalry provided the punch to defend against enemy cavalry, as well as the arm of decision in attack.

As the Christian troop units formed they were under constant harassment from the Ayyubids, groups ranging from handfuls to large groups riding in to fire into the Frankish formations, even slashing at individuals or groups that straggled out of the defensive square. Some of these Muslims would dismount and set fires, adding to the confusion and misery of the defenders.

This process took some time; probably all morning and possibly into the early afternoon. Based on the accounts, I suspect that the crusader's command and control broke down quickly and often. Panicky men, their confidence beaten down by thirst and the odds against them, started to break and run by individuals and small groups.

At some point, probably almost simultaneously,

1. A major attack slams into the Templar and Hospitaler rearguard. The religious orders are hammered; their commanders send desperately to King Guy for a halt and reinforcements to keep from being overrun.2. To the Christian front, Count Raymond's group has slammed hard into the Ayyubid lines between them and the lake. This sector, the seam between Taqi al-Din's left and Muzaffar al-Din's right (remember?), might have been as messy as such unit boundaries often are. Or Saladin might have had a soft spot for his old enemy. And there were some things, too, that we will never know.

But the result was a brief flurry of swordcuts and spear thrusts and then a group of Christian riders were through, with a scattering of individual Muslims in front of them and the shrieking chaos behind them.

I would have ridden for my life. I think they did, too.

3. I think that the sight of the vanguard disappearing and the rearguard crumbling panicked many of the footsoldiers. I think that some of them had been deserting since early in the morning - this accounts for the author of the Libellus' assertion that the footsoldiers fled as soon as the Muslims approached.

Now Raymond's infantrymen would have been abandoned by their horsemen, those that survived the fight at the breakout, and with the rear apparently overrun and the cavalry in the front vanished, I believe that many, perhaps most, of the infantrymen in all three groups broke and streamed towards the one defensible place they could see - the high ground of the Horns.The front and rear probably fled first, pulling many of the men from the center group with them.

I think that the cavalrymen retreated there, too, probably less willingly, perhaps on command, but that by late in the day the Frankish forces were encircled on the top of the Horns of Hattin.

From there I believe the mounted men tried to break out several times. These attacks were put in with the desperation of doomed men, but were defeated and driven back. Between the crusader sorties the Ayyubid encirclement tightened; the defeated Frankish attacks probably resulted in a confused tumble of men and horses fleeing or being driven back to the hilltop followed closely by Muslim heavy cavalrymen. These countercharges would have added to the confusion, as well as leaving an additional litter of dead and dying men and horses.The hollow at the crest would have been full of wounded and dying men, would have been under a constant drizzle - or gusts - of arrows, wounding, rewounding, and killing.

At some point the crusaders' military discipline must have broken down. Some would have tried to surrender, others thrown themselves into hopeless combats hoping to be - and succeeding in being - killed. Some would just have stopped fighting and waited helplessly to be killed or captured.

Finally the last organized resistance fell apart and the Ayyubid troops rode in, killing the defenseless remnant like you'd knock a sick dog in the head, keeping the notables, looting the dead, kicking through the trash and debris of defeat hoping to turn up anything valuable.And you know, probably, the famous finale of King Guy and the execution of Raynald, who finally got his conge' at last:
"The exhausted captives were brought to Saladin's tent, where Guy was given a goblet of iced water as a sign of Saladin's generosity. When Guy passed the goblet to his fellow captive Raynald, Saladin allowed the old man (Raynald was about 60) to drink but shortly afterwards said that he had not offered water to Raynald and thus was not bound by the Muslim rules of hospitality. When Saladin accused Raynald of being an oath breaker, Raynald replied "kings have always acted thus. I did nothing more." Saladin then executed Raynald himself, beheading him with his sword. Guy fell to his knees at the sight of Raynald's corpse but Saladin bade him to rise, saying, "This man was only killed because of his maleficence and perfidy."
The Outcome: Decisive Ayyubid grand tactical victory

The Impact: In every sense, Hattin was the antithesis of the First Crusade's storming of Jerusalem in 1099. The Kingdom of Jerusalem was destroyed, it's King a prisoner, it's symbol - the "True Cross" - captured. The siege and fall of Jerusalem itself, on 2 OCT 1187, was almost a formality. The heart of the Kingdom of Jerusalem had been ripped out. The domiciled crusaders were expelled, to the County of Tripoli (but there they were denied entrance and robbed), Antioch, Cilicia, Byzantium, or all the way back to Europe.Saladin went on to capture the castles of Belvoir, Kerak, and Montreal, before returning to the siege of Tyre.

Saldin did not manage to erase the crusader states, however. The Third Crusade, driven forward by the news of the defeat at Hattin and the fall of Jerusalem to the "saracens", managed to restore a portion of the coastal strip to Western control.

But the Muslim world would not be as weak as it had been in 1099 for another 500 years. The Ayyubids, as short-lived as was the sultanate Saladin founded, had managed to pull the Islamic world back together.

His power center in Egypt would become a mamluk polity and defeat the Mongol invaders at Ain Jalut.

The Turkic peoples would become the Ottoman Empire and would, in less than two centuries, overrun Constantinople and keep marching to the gates of Vienna.

The inexorable pressure of the Muslim world would beat back the crusaders until their little states would all be extinguished in a sudden flurry at the end of the 13th Century; The Principality of Antioch in 1268, The County of Tripoli, in 1289, and the Kingdom of Jerusalem's final possession, the port city of Acre, in 1291.

Europeans would not be back until the world had changed, and the fortunes of the great religions with it.

Lessons Learned: Several things occurred to me as I was researching this;

1. Good strategic choices often lead to good tactical results

For this, compare the campaign of 1182 to that of 1187.

In 1182, led by Raymond of Tripoli, the Kingdom of Jerusalem's leaders kept their eyes on the prize; that their defensive castles were strong, that they had the ability to let Saladin come to them, that all they had to do was keep from being disastrously defeated and, sure enough, they played rope-a-dope with Saladin until he ran out of time, supplies, and patience, and had to scurry off to deal with internal problems elsewhere in his sultanate.

The haste to force a general engagment in 1187 disregarded the central fact of existence in the 12th Century Kingdom of Jerusalem; it could not afford to lose a single, decisive battle. It was too isolated politically, too one-dimensional strategically, and too thin militarily. While it might be capable of tactical success, the risk from tactical failure - as Hattin proved - was too great. Even a tactical success that cost too many lives would have been foolish.

Whatever else his failings, whatever his motives, they should have listened to Raymond again.

2. You don't have to be a military genius; you just have to be better than your enemy on a given day.

I suspect that it's only natural to believe that your leaders are or will be wise, decisive, and prudent. But the Frankish combination of bad judgment, poor choices (or fatal inability to make choices), magical thinking, and hubris leading up to Hattin are pretty impressive.

Western mythmaking has made Saladin into a sort of warrior-mystic (the Saladin in the Scott film is just the lastest version of the Wise Eastern Potentate trope you encounter in a lot of the later accounts of the day). But look at the man's record; he just wasn't that great a commander. The Crusaders had beaten him at Tell Jezer and Montgisard, Richard would beat him at Arsuf...he was decent, but no Alexander.

But bad generalship from your enemies can make you look like Napoleon, and in July of 1187 the leadership of the Kingdom of Jerusalem was about as bad as it could have been.

It's also instructive to compare the crusaders after Hattin to the Ayyubids after Arsuf.

The Kingdom of Jerusalem put itself into an impossible position at Hattin, and even using tried tactics the crusader force was beaten. Afterwards, the Ayyubids overran everything but the area around Acre and a combination of the scarcity of Frankish soldiery and the losses of Hattin made this outcome nearly inevitable.

Saladin rolled the dice at Arsuf and lost; Richard was just the better commander on the day. But after Arsuf, Saladin recognized that fighting crusaders one-on-one was a mug's game, and changed his entire plan. The subsequent Fabian strategy eventually exhausted the Third Crusaders, as Saladin had thought it would.

3. And poor political leadership is even more common than poor military leadership - and the effects are worse.

The Franks lost, for the most part, because they were unable to settle their political differences, playing "poulain and Poitevin" even as the enemy marched against them. The decision to engage, the decisions during the engagement, owed much to the bad blood between the factions and Guy's inability to force them to work together.

The loss was catastrophic because the leadership of the Kingdom didn't see, or didn't want to see, that they could "lose the war in an afternoon" by doing just what they did - throwing away the armed force of the state in a lost battle.

And, in a larger sense, the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the other crusader states collapsed because most crusaders, poulains or newcomers, weren't able to think beyond what they knew best. The conditions in which they found themselves required them to grow, to become more than armored ironheads living the feudal lifestyle as if Galilee was just Haut-Rhone with more goats.

Once the Muslims found themselves a decent political leader, one who was able to make them stop their own internal quarreling, the crusdaer states were doomed, and it took less than another hundred years to smash everything the crusaders had built. They had been given almost one hundred years, to adapt themselves, their society, and their way of war, to their new lands and the peoples therein.

They never did.Touchline Tattles: Amid all of this blood and religious ferocity we get one tale that seems to have a remarkable resonance with people; the story of Guy of Lusignan, the lucky guy from buttfuck-nowhere Poitou who gets to marry the princess, and Queen Sibylla, the headstrong royal miss who will have her way let the heavens fall.

Let's read the tale as Stephen O'Shea tells it in "Sea of Faith";
"...having been urged to come to the Levant by his brother, who was the lover of Sibylla's mother, the dashing minor nobleman from France duly won Sibylla's affections and wed her in 1180. Despite the unpopularity of her beloved Guy, Sibylla possessed the necessary guile to have her way: when the influential Raymond of Tripoli was away in Samaria, she staged a furtive coronation ceremony in Jerusalem.

Her allies on that occasion in 1186 were...Eraclius, who had been made LAtin patriarch of Jerusalem several years earlier by virtue of sharing the bed of Sibylla's mother (He had preceded Guy's brother as her lover)...(and) had since taken up with a married lady of Nablus, known throughout the kingdom as Madame la Patriarchesse.

When Guy of Lusignan bowed his head to receive the regalia, Gerard (de Ridefort) averred smugly "This crown compensates for the Botrun marriage.

Applauding alongside him was the inevitable Raynald of Châtillon."
What a crew!"Lechery, lechery, wars and lechery; nothing else holds fashion."

24 comments:

basilbeast said...

Having dutifully followed the teaser at the pub over here, and having read and skipped through parts here, one might wonder what could have been had the mighty Crusaders actually followed the teachings of Christ.
And likewise, had the mighty Byzantines treated their subject states in the Levant when they controlled them, would there have been Muslims today?
Fantasies, fantasies. But then we wouldn't have had fine action/adventure movies with Orly and Crowe ( Robin Hood ) and Gyllenhaal & Gemma in the Prince of Persia where the bad guys are called "Saracens". Nor sound-byte politicians and their happy followers marching off to modern wars with stars in their eyes and flowers in their hair and sweets in their hands.
Truly, as I have written before and do so now, you should publish this.
I shall peruse more thoroughly later.

bb

basilbeast said...

oh bother!

"the mighty Byzantines treated their subject states in the Levant in true Christian love . . ."

seydlitz89 said...

Excellent post!

A certain inability to adapt, but when in history has an invader been able to hang on for the long run? Establish and maintain a state (or separate political entity) in the midst of neighbors so culturally different?

FDChief said...

Seydlitz: Well, it helps if your technology (or your military capability, or both) is massively superior, so the Europeans during the colonial period make it happen despite being massively outnumbered.

It helps if your nuisance diseases are overwhelmingly lethal, too...

And the natives they faced often had significant political problems that made it impossible for them to bring the full weight of their numbers to bear.

And you can walk that back pretty much throughout history; Ottomans in the Balkans, Mongols in China, several Bantu groups in southern Africa...

But you're right; the crusader states were a sort of freakish anomaly - had Godfrey & Co. showed up a century earlier they'd have been thrashed by the Fatimids. A century later and they'd have run head-on into the Ayyubids just as they did.

They had a pretty decent run, given the circumstances.

FDChief said...

BTW, I like the new schlachtkreuzer icon!

mike said...

Nice post Chief, it is a good look at all the various sources of the event. You are a modern Renaissance man: historian, geologist, teacher, soldier, philosophical blogger of P-Town life.

In the past, my only reading of the battle was in Francesco Gabrieli‘s book: ‘Arab Historians of the Crusades’. He included both Imad al Din and Ibn al Athir, although they call it Hittin vice Hattin – a difference in translation probably. Imad al Din was not much of a historian as you mentioned, but he fancied himself one hell of a poet. His account of the staging of Saladin’s Army just before the battle as translated by Gabrieli follows:

Uqhuwana was changed into burgeoning flowerbeds and flowering orchards by bay chargers and knights like proud lions,
by crescent swords like arches of myrtle,
by Yemeni blades like garden trees,
by yellow banners like unfurled pennons of jasmine,
by standards red as anemones and coats of mail glittering like pools,
by swords polished white as streams of water,
by helmets gleaming like sweet-smelling many-petalled chamomile flowers,
by helmets like bubbles on a sea of breastplates,
by neighing horses like eagles, roused to delight at the sight and sound of war.
”.

Too purple for my poor taste. But maybe it is again the translation. Gabrieli says that in the original Arabic the metaphors were subservient to the puns and to plays on sound that are lost in translation. Would that I could have heard and understood.

FDChief said...

mike: Stuff like that always makes me wonder if pre-Industrial war really WAS prettier and more attractive than modern war. It seems like there were a lot of people who reeeeeally loved it back in the day. Maybe all those gleaming helmets and colorful banners made it more fun.

I suspect there was some lascivious writhing going on there, too...

mike said...

Chief:

You may be right. But I think you know there are many today who reeeaaaly love it still. But like Imad al Din they are generally not directly participating.

I left out Imad's poetry of the dead and wounded Franks on the battlefield. Too macabre. The guy makes Poe sound like Pollyanna.

basilbeast said...

WRT to seylidtz's icon, one of the stories that drew me into military history was the Kaiser's Grand High Fleet in WW1 and the Battle of Jutland. I'm guessing the litle pic is the battle cruiser Seydlitz, which caused the British fleet no end of trouble?

I even had the old Avalon Hill games version of Jutlland, which my brothers and I wore out long ago. There was a book I had too, can't remember the title or author, but one line stands out, when the British fleet "crossed the T of the German line:

. . . a tempest of fire and steel swept the point of the German spear, opening turrets . . .

Always wanted to ask seydlitz about that . . . .

bb

basilbeast said...

lascivious writhing?

I was checking out the game "Jutland", and btw, British Grand Fleet and German High Seas Fleet X-( and ran into this:

http://tinyurl.com/26r6dgs

Check out the pic at the top of the site. :)

bb

FDChief said...

basil: I had that Jutland game, too. I remember how fragile the British battlecruisers were; if you made the mistake of letting Hipper's squadron isolate them they samk like stones, just like in history.

It was a cool looking game, too, with the little counters showing the overhead view of the various capital ships. Great game.

And, yes, seydlitz's icon is SMS Seydlitz, the Hochseeflotte battlecruiser

seydlitz89 said...

Yea, that's SMS Seydlitz. I too played AH's Jutland as a kid . . . Agree the HMS Invincible class battlecruisers were fragile. Seydlitz was a lucky ship in that she survived probably more pounding in the war than any other capital ship and was still able to return to port. Her end came when she was scuttled at Scapa Flow by her own crew.

mike said...

With all that 'crossing the T' talk, you ought to do a naval battle in the future. US Admiral Scott successfully crossed the T of a Japanese task force at Cape Esperance off Guadalcanal in October 42. But they say even so it was not a decisive engagement.

In November 42, on the night of Friday the 13th, he and Admiral Callahan tried to cross the Japanese T again off of Guadalcanal. They failed as the Japanese force was too spread out. Both Scott and Callahan were killed in that action and buried at sea. That battle though did end up as decisive for the Americans, despite the loss of the two flag officers and over 1700 other American sailors.

Great topic for this fall Chief!!!

FDChief said...

mike: Well, I did Lepanto in October, 2008, and Midway in June of the same year. The only other really "decisive" naval battles I can think of off the top of my head would be Tsushima Strait (that'll be for next May), Trafalgar (for this October) and...dunno, maybe Manila Bay? (May, 2012, assuming I'm still at this then...) Maybe Actium for September..?

FDChief said...

SMS Seydlitz was a pretty tough ship, all right. You wonder if what Hipper could have done with another two or three of those "super-Moltke" class battlecruisers...

That said, you have to kind of shake your head at the number of people who bought into the battlecruiser idea. You could see them, say, as the flagship and major capital shop for a small squadron on foreign station - the way the Goeben was used, say. But the notion that "speed is armor"...well, Jutland showed how well that worked.

These things were the light tanks of the sea. Fine, so long as there are no real tanks - or battleships - around. But most of them weren't really fit to lie in the line of battle, and a lot of guys died reminding Jellicoe and Scheer of that.

By the time you get to SMS Seydlitz and the classes of ships that came after her: the German Derfflingers, the Japanese Kongos, the British Queen Elizabeths the whole breed is starting to look more like "fast battleships", with the armor approaching the ships-of-the-line.

I think the basic problem wasn't the ships themselves (tho the Brits did have some real significant design problems with their turret-magazine connections that resulted in the losses they took at Jutland) but that Fisher's strategic concept - the battlecruiser as commerce raider/detached squadron flagship - just never happened. The role he envisioned for them - beating up on enemy light cruiser/destroyed squadrons on foreign station - was replaced by trying to fight other capital ships, which they weren't really designed for.

seydlitz89 said...

We're getting a bit of the subject of your post, but I do find WWI naval warfare interesting.

As to the BC concept, they suffered the same as the earlier "armored cruisers" and pre-Dreadnought battleships, unable to stand up to the Dreadnoughts and their successors in a stand up fight.

The range of types got smaller over time. We see that with other smaller ship types as well, such as Torpedo boats being replaced by Torpedo boat destroyers, or simply "Destroyers".

Still I wonder what would have happened had von Spree entered the Falklands harbor with both SMS Scharnhorst, SMS Gneisenau and a couple of his light cruisers and caught Sturdee's battlecruisers still coaling . . .

mike said...

Chief:

Actium and Tsushima are gold. One has a hoochie mama, the other has an overwhelmingly successful 'T-crossing' plus may have led the world into the dreadnaught race which helped to precipitate WW1.

Trafalgar? More like plastic than gold I think except for Brit propaganda. Yes it was decisive tactically, but certainly only had a negligible impact on the outcome of the war. How about a French victory, maybe de Grasse at Cape Henry which while not a clear and overwhelming victory was certainly decisive for our Revolution.

Manila Bay? Against an antiquated, outgunned, undermanned, untrained and outclassed Spanish fleet? How about Mobile Bay? Or Put-In Bay on Lake Erie?

Midway was a well done ambush, but was it decisive? The Japanese kept up their expansion in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean well after Midway. But after the IJN lost battleships Hiei and Kirishima and only God knows how many troop transports in Ironbottom Sound they turned defensive and never again went on a strategic offensive. That battle opened up the way for MacArthur's New Guinea campaign and return to the Philippines and also opened the way for Nimitz's entry to the Central Pacific. After VJ Day several Japanese senior flag officers cited Guadalcanal as the beginning of the end.

Orrrr - for the airedales out there - how about a decisive air battle. There must be some. The Battle of Britain? The 5th AF and the RAAF in the New Guinea campaign? Or while somewhat boring, the use of A/C both landbased and on 'jeep carriers' in the Battle of the Atlantic against the wolfpacks of the Kriegsmarine (perhaps focus on Bloody May 43 as the U-Boat vets called it).

Or no specific battle, just the story of the Night Witches - the hoochie mama pilots of the Soviet 588th air group in WW2. Some arguably claim them to be the most decorated unit in the Soviet Air Force.

mike said...

Reviewing Samuel Eliot Morison, he claims that Copenagen was Lord Nelson's hardest fought and most preeminent victory.

Morison also uses the name of that fair city as a verb. When describing the attack on Pearl Harbor he says: "...for never, since the British 'Copenhagened' the Danes, had so devastating a blow been inflicted on men-of-war of a nation supposed to be at peace."

Horatio Nelson as Isoroku Yamamoto - hmmmm!

FDChief said...

mike: I did de Grasse and the Battle of Chesapeake Bay with the Yorktown post - it seemed like a natural twofer.

Trafalgar seems like an afterthought because the French navy never really did get any traction after 1789. It was more of a confirmation than a real endpoint or full stop.

Same-same for Manila Bay (and Mobile Bay, too, when you think of it). The only chance the Spanish had to prevent us from just working our will in their former colonies was defeat us at sea. Their fleet was so sad by that time that the battle itself just made concrete what was obvious to anyone who could see the two sides at work. It was still the end for Spain as a colonial power, so it was decisive in that respect. Just because one side can't or won't put up much of a fight doesn't necessarily make the engagement itself less important...

The thing about Midway is that the Japanese lost 2/3rd of their fleet carrier decks and a hell of a lot of their good pre-war naval aviators. Midway doesn't mean that Japan loses the war (IMO their economic weakness and the U.S. submarine campaign does that) but it pretty much means that they can't WIN the war. Their ability to stop the Allied attacks at sea means that are reduced to defending islands. The growing U.S. carrier air arm finally gets them where they want them two years later and destroys the IJN air arm in the Battle of the Philippine Sea - I should do that one for next June; it really was decisive, to the extent that Japan at that point had ANY chance of getting, not a victory but a negotiated peace...

My problem with the Pacific War is the Japanese never really had a chance. Yamamoto was right; the failure was in the starting, not in any particular battle or campaign.

Air battles...hmmm. I'd have to think real hard about that. My prejudice is to dismiss "air power" as one of those things the USAF uses every time the budget comes around to justify not losing manned bombers. But you're right, summer 1940 has to be in there somewhere. And in the Moscow entry I talked about the failure to dominate the skies over European Russia as one key to the failure to knock the USSR out of the war.

I'll have to think on this a bit. But good ideas here.

mike said...

Chief: Is there an online index (with links) to your "decisive battles" posts? It seems I have missed half of them - and probably some of the very best ones - during my travels.

PS - speaking of travel, I hope to follow the Oregon Trail in August or September. South Pass or bust!!! I hope to make a side trip to the site where feckless Fetterman met his massacre and mutilation. But only if I can talk my bride and trusty navigator into going along.

FDChief said...

mike: go all the way down to the bottom of the page, there is a list of post subjects. Unfortunately it's organized by number of posts, but "decisive battles" is up there in the twenties (it shows 27 on my screen). You can pull them up by category and then keep clocking on "older posts" to go back in time. First one should be Shanhaiguan back in April, 2008.

Anonymous said...

thanks chief

mike said...

Cbief -

You have a great resource there. Why is it hidden away like that. I would think a body of work like that deserves a blog or side blog of its own. If it was better catalogued with a table of contents or indexed you could even make a money maker out of it by selling ads to Osprey, The History Press, or other publishers, or to Amazon or Powells, or to the DVD industry in some cases. Or the History Channel might even pay you to videoscript a few. Not that you want to - and not that you yourself need the bread. But what a great college fund it might make for Peeper and Missy.

Gerald said...

Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

Your article is very well done, a good read.