Five Spanish squadrons participated in WWII, one after another. They are collectively and individually known as the Blue Squadron. All five squadrons operated in Russia, but being assigned to Army Group Centre they were not necessarily associated with their compatriots of the Blue Division. The Blue Squadron took part in the German offensive on Moscow and the battles of Kharkov, Smolensk and Kursk.
5 Escuadrilla Azul units that served on the Eastern Front July 1941 – March 1944.
5ª Esc. Azul served on the Eastern Front from 2/44-5/44 (Luftwaffe designation 15(span.)/JG51). This unit was the 5th rotation of Spanish pilots to serve in the east.
1ª Esc. Azul (15(span.)/JG27) served on the Eastern Front between 26/9/41-6/1/42
2ª Esc. Azul (15(span.)/JG51) served 8/6/42-30/11/42
3ª Esc. Azul (15(span.)/JG51) served 30/11/42-8/7/43
4ª Esc. Azul (15(span.)/JG51) served 7/43-1/44.
“Die Fliegenden Verbände der Blauen Division” by Guillen & Caballero lists the following confirmed claim totals:
1. Escuadrilla: 10
2. Escuadrilla: 13
3. Escuadrilla: 62 (+ possibly 1 more by Hevia)
4. Escuadrilla: 74 (incl. 1 balloon)
5. Escuadrilla: 0
Total = 159
Escuadrilla Azul Aces
There is a two-part article on the Blue Division in issues 2/1995 and 3/1995 of Flugzeug magazine. It states that the Spaniards shot down 137 aircraft and destroyed approximately 26 more on the ground. It lists the top scorers as follows (with those destroyed on the ground in parentheses):
Capitan Hevia – 11
Capitan Gavilan – 9
Teniente Sanchez Arjona – 8 (1)
Commandante Salas – 6 (2)
Teniente Valiente – 6
Teniente Azqueta – 6
Alferez Aldecoa – 6
Commandante Cuadra – 5(5)
Teniente Baranano – 5
Capitan Alos – 5
Teniente Snachez Tabernero – 5 (1)
A complete list of victory claims for all Escuadrillas Azules, including individual pilot scores, can be found in ACTUACION EN RUSIA DE LA ESCUADRILLA EXPEDICIONARIA ESPANOLES by Jesus Salas Larrazabal (AEROPLANO – Revista de Historia Aeronautica, Octubre 1984, No. 2, , published by INSTITUTO DE HISTORIA Y CULTURA AERONAUTICA, Madrid. The original Spanish edition of the German title referred to by Leon, ESCUADRILLAS AZULES EN RUSIA by Caballero and Guillen, has a complete list of individuals and their scores as well, but arranged alphabetically and listing the full names, which can be complex and confusing.
The latest development in strategic nuclear-delivery systems actually to have become operational is stealth technology, which makes aircraft difficult to detect by radar. Although stealth has achieved its greatest prominence by enabling US aircraft to penetrate enemy air defenses in order to launch conventional bombing attacks, Northrop developed the B-2 “Spirit” stealth bomber as a penetrating nuclear bomber to attack targets, including mobile Soviet ICBMs.
Although the United States canceled its plans for mobile ICBMs with the demise of the cold war, the Soviet Union deployed two mobile ICBM systems — one carried on railroads and the other road-mobile. In response, the United States planned to use the B-2 stealth bomber to hunt and attack these weapons.
The 21st—and last—B-2 rolled off the production line in late 1997.
BOMBERS AND PRECISION
March 24, 1999 brought the first combat missions for the B-2 bomber. That night, the second-to-last B-2 built became the first to drop its weapons in combat. Two B-2s flying separate routes to strike different targets became the first aircraft to drop the Joint Direct Attack Munition with its satellite-guided precision.
“The B-2 was designed to deliver weapons on the first day—yesterday was the first day of the war and the B-2 was there,” said Col. Tony Imondi, the 509th Bomb Wing Operations Group Commander.B-2 bombers flew 51 missions and dropped more than 650 JDAMs during the 78-day air war. On several missions, the B-2 used its satellite communications link to pick up new target coordinates while airborne. For the bomber fleet, it was an early demonstration of the role of time-critical targeting in modern aerial warfare. The bombers excelled at it.
Joint Forces Air Component Commander Lt. Gen. Michael Short had glowing words, which had a bit of the taste of crow to them. “My expectation of the B-2s was that they would not be nearly as accurate as they were, and that, X number of days into the campaign, they’d begin to whine about their stealth, whether they could maintain it or not, and start to come apart,” he later said. Needless to say, that did not happen.
President Bill Clinton personally visited Whiteman Air Force Base, the home of the B-2 fleet, to meet and thank the B-2 crews. Secretary of Defense William Cohen praised them, too. “When you can have a B-2 that can fly all the way from the middle of this country, all the way across the Atlantic, drop its bombs that will land within 20 feet of its target and return to its home base—that’s quite a testament to the precision, the technology that we have,” Cohen said.
B-52Hs and B-1Bs also flew combat missions for Operation Allied Force. According to the Air Force, the B-1Bs delivered close to 20 percent of the total tonnage of bombs while flying not quite two percent of the total strike sorties. The B-2’s stealth, range, and payload allowed it to fly unique missions during the conflict. Although one F-117 was shot down, no bombers were lost or damaged, and the B-2s coped with the prospect of loose MiG-29s as well as roaming surface-to-air missiles.
Above all, it was precision and payload that made the B-2 a standout. Armed with the JDAM, the bomber achieved what no other had done before. The B-2 could attack at night, in the weather, and both succeed and survive.
The Air Force later concluded that B-2s hit more than 30 percent of all the targets in Serbia. News media often inaccurately reported that the B-2 strikes were made by TLAMS. “I remember specifically one factory that was hit and they interviewed the locals and they said they’d been hit by 17 cruise missiles in 20 seconds,” said B-2 pilot Terry Sunnarborg. In fact, multiple explosions were the JDAM calling card. “We’ve got airplanes flying in there every night and no one thinks it’s us,” said then-Maj. Britt Bankson, a B-2 pilot. “You know, what could be better for a stealth platform?”
In fall 2001, Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan introduced a whole new set of operational concepts for the bomber force. Fifteen bombers took part in Night One operations. B-2 bombers flew from the United States to drop their weapons. B-1Bs and B-52s deployed forward to theater bases. Within the first several days of combat, though, the nature of the air war changed. Fixed targets gave way to emerging and time-sensitive targets. Air defenses were down, so the B-2 was not needed anymore.
OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM
Crews flying missions during the major combat operations phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom also found themselves tasked with everything from fixed targets to SOF support to on-call close air support for ground forces. Precision, stealth, range, and loiter time of the bomber force were all employed to good advantage in the air campaign. Fifty-one Air Force bombers participated in the conflict. All three bombers flew missions during OIF. In a historical first, the B-52H, B-1B, and B-2 aircraft all simultaneously hit areas near Baghdad on March 29, 2003.
Bomber missions reflected the growth of the conventional missions. They ran from precise attack of fixed targets to deep attacks on Republican Guards units to close support. B-1Bs in western Iraq were assigned a block of grid-box engagement zones to watch over in case special operations forces called for air strikes. B-2s—deployed to theater—took real-time targeting updates from the CAOC and unleashed JDAMs one-by-one on Republican Guard positions.
America stopped acquiring new bombers 10 years ago. The last production B-2 stealth bomber—Air Vehicle 21—was delivered to the Air Force in November 1997. Money for its production was authorized and appropriated much earlier than that, in 1993. The result has been the opening of a bomber gap. It is the first time since 1917 that America’s military airmen have not had a long-range bomber on the way, in one form or another. That’s a remarkable situation for a nation whose security relies on its ability to project military power worldwide in defense of its interests and allies.
USAF, of course, has not been lackadaisical; the service has maintained and upgraded its fleet of hard working B-52, B-1B, and B-2 bombers and kept them in fighting trim. And yet USAF’s ability to hold at risk key targets around the world has been undermined. The bomber fleet is old, and modernization plans largely have lapsed. The Air Force has not seemed eager to tackle the problem.
In the decade since the last B-2 rolled off the production line, several key technologies have advanced dramatically. Now, defense officials believe the US aerospace industry can use these new technologies to underpin production of a very new type of bomber indeed. They say that knowledge gained from development of fifth-generation stealthy fighters, the flight reliability of UAVs, and from other research makes it possible to build a new bomber with greatly enhanced capabilities and minimal risk.
Yet there is a big question: Will the Air Force—and the nation—have what it takes to rally behind a new bomber program, and keep pushing until hardware is on the ramp?
The Parthians made to charge, but instead they surrounded the Roman square. Crassus ordered his light troops to attack, but the Parthians rode away, shooting arrows as they fled. Crassus ordered his son Publius to attack with a detachment. The Parthians wheeled about and rode off. Publius pursued, but after ‘fleeing’ for a distance, the ‘fugitives’ were joined by more troops. The Romans halted, to find cataphracts in their front and horse archers riding around on all sides. Publius then charged the cataphracts. It was an unequal struggle. The survivors retreated to a hillock, shot up by the horse archers, and then cut down by the cataphracts. Publius committed suicide. Seeing his head on a spearpoint, Crassus’ men lost heart. The Parthians returned to the attack, this time adding charges by their cataphracts to the arrows of their horse archers. Fighting in this manner continued until nightfall, when the Romans were at last able to retreat, the Parthians being ill-equipped to fight at night.
These Parthians were in origin the Parni, a tribe of the semi-nomadic Dahae who lived north of Hyrcania and provided the Achaemenid Persians with horse archers. By the middle of the first century BC, they had taken control of Persia and Mesopotamia, establishing themselves as a landowning military aristocracy. Its king, of the Arsacid line, was the feudal superior of his nobles, including the seven great Pahlavi families that dominated entire regions. The Parthians developed an all-cavalry army, the nobles being cataphracts, their retainers horse archers. Having large grazing lands, the Parthians were able to adopt the steppe nomad practice of bringing along herds of horses as re-mounts, giving their armies excellent strategic mobility.
The Parthians had come into contact with the Romans during the latter’s conquest of Anatolia and Armenia during the first half of the first century BC. Relations were at first good, but soon soured due to high-handed Roman behaviour. It was not long before the Romans were tempted to intervene in Parthian affairs, and in 54 BC Marcus Licinius Crassus took command of the province of Syria with the goal of invading Parthia. Crassus had no casus belli; he simply needed military victories to cement his family’s political position in Rome. He was accompanied on the campaign by his son Publius, who had served with Caesar in Gaul, conquering Aquitania. He brought 1000 crack Gallic horse to Syria, where he was one of his father’s chief officers.
By the autumn of 54 BC, Crassus was ready to lead his seven Roman legions on campaign. He crossed the Euphrates at Zeugma and conquered Parthian Mesopotamia as far as the river Balissos (modern Balikh), taking Carrhae (modern Harran), Zenodotium, Nicephorium, Ichnae and probably Batnae. The Parthians were currently distracted by a civil war, and the local satrap, Sillaces, was no opposition. Crassus left 7000 infantry and 1000 cavalry to garrison the cities and returned to Syria for the winter. The Parthians harassed the cities during the winter, but recaptured none of them. In the next year’s campaign, Crassus aimed to drive into Mesopotamia. Artavasdes, king of Armenia, urged Crassus to invade Parthia through his territory, where he would enjoy the shelter of the hilly country against the Parthian cavalry, and have the assistance of 10,000 Armenian cataphracts. Because he had left garrisons in northwestern Mesopotamia, Crassus felt he had to return to relieve them. He nevertheless expected Artavasdes and his cavalry to join him there.
Gaius Cassius Longinus, another of Crassus’ commanders (and one of the future assassins of Julius Caesar), advised him to proceed down the Euphrates, thus ensuring that he always had the river as a supply route and flank guard. Instead, Crassus crossed the Euphrates at Zeugma. He followed a caravan trail shown him by Abgar, the Roman client king of Edessa, and set out in pursuit of what he thought was a retreating Parthian army. He and his men came to, and crossed, the stream of the Balissos – not a strong current but still flowing in May. His army endured a forced march throughout the day and then had to prepare for an encounter with the Parthian army somewhere south of Carrhae.
The Parthian troops came from the personal following of the head of one of the seven great Pahlavi clans, the Surenas, who ruled Seistan as their fief. We do not know his name, the Greeks and Romans calling him Surena; we do know he was not yet 30 years old, but already the second most powerful man in the kingdom and a noted warrior. He was accon1panied by a train of 10,000 people, including servants, concubines and the drivers of 1000 camels, but also, more importantly, 1000 cataphract lancers and a larger number of horse archers, perhaps as many as 6000. The local satrap, Sillaces, and his following were also present. Most of the Parthian Army had followed the king, Orodes, into Armenia instead; Crassus would receive no help from Artavasdes.
When word reached Crassus that the enemy was ahead, he first followed Cassius’ advice and formed his army in one long, thin line with his cavalry stationed on both flanks, in order to keep the Parthians from getting around him easily. But then he changed his mind, formed his army into a square and advanced. As the Greek biographer Plutarch describes it, the square had 12 cohorts of 500 legionaries on each side, each cohort having a squadron of cavalry stationed with it to aid in local counterattacks. Since Crassus had 7 legions, 4000 cavalry and 4000 light troops, there should have been 70 cohorts present, but 14 of them had probably been left in the Mesopotamian garrisons the year before, while the remaining 8 cohorts were probably kept within the square as a reserve, along with the light troops and Publius’ 1000 Gallic horse. The other 3000 cavalry were divided into the support squadrons for the cohorts, and would have numbered about 60 men each.
Although Crassus had not led an army since 70 BC, when he played a major role in the defeat of Spartacus, he did have reason to feel confident. The Romans had encountered cataphracts and horse archers on a number of occasions in the past 1SO years, and had emerged triumphant. That these victories had involved large infantry armies and particular terrains would not have seemed important to a Roman. Moreover, the oncoming Parthians appeared few and weak, for Surena had deployed his men in column so that only the head of the force showed, and ordered his cataphracts to cover their armour with skins and robes.
When they neared the Romans, however, Surena gave a signal. His musicians sounded their great kettle drums, and his cataphracts threw off their coverings to reveal gleaming bronze and steel. The Parthians then made to charge the 112 Romans, but seeing the surprise had not noticeably shaken the enemy’s composure, they broke ranks and seemed to disperse. Before Crassus realized what was happening, they had ridden around and surrounded the legionary square. He ordered his light-armed troops to charge, only to see them driven back into the square by a shower of arrows. Plutarch wrote:
‘The Parthians, taking position at a distance from each other, began to fire their arrows from all sides at once, not with accurate fire (for the close-packed ranks of the Romans would not allow even someone who wished to do so to miss his man), but giving strong and violent impacts from bows that were strong, large, and so very curved that they could send off missiles with great force.’
By this point composite bows had ‘ear laths’ stiff, straight tips made of bone, which acted as levers to increase the force of the bow beyond that of the Scythian model. Plutarch says their arrows fractured armour and tore their way through every covering. If they kept their ranks, the Romans were wounded in great numbers, while if they charged and tried to come to close quarters, the Parthians rode away and turned in the saddle to shoot as they fled, making the proverbial ‘Parthian shot’.
As long as they could hope the enemy would run out of arrows and then depart, or fight at close quarters, the Romans held out and made futile local counterattacks. But when they saw that many of Surena’s camels were laden with arrows, from which the Parthians took a fresh supply, it became clear there would be no end to the ordeal. Crassus then sent messages to his son, in command of the right wing, and ordered him to force an engagement, since the enemy was especially numerous on that side and threatened an encirclement. Publius accordingly took his 1000 Gallic horse, 300 other cavalry, 500 archers and the 8 cohorts nearest him (their places presumably taken by the reserve cohorts) and led them all to the charge. This had worked for Alexander at Gaugamela, where the Persians had fought as a large, formed army. Here the Parthians wheeled about and rode off. Shouting that they did not stand their ground, Publius pursued. But after ‘fleeing’ for a long distance, the seeming fugitives wheeled back about and were joined by additional troops. The Romans halted, to find cataphracts in their front and horse archers riding around on all sides in loose formation, firing incessantly and raising so much dust that the Romans could barely see. Victims of the ancient steppe nomad tactic of the feigned retreat, many of the legionaries were killed and most of the rest incapacitated.
Publius then led his cavalry in a vigorous charge against the cataphracts. It was an unequal struggle, Publius’ men ‘striking with small, weak spears against breastplates of rawhide and steel, but the Gauls’ lightly equipped and unprotected bodies being struck by kontoi’, as Plutarch says. Nevertheless the Gauls worked wonders:
‘ …for they laid ahold of the kontoi, and grappling with the men pulled them from their horses, although it was hard to move them owing to the great weight of their armour. Many of them got off their own horses and, crawling under those of the enemy, stabbed them in the belly; these would rear up in their anguish and die trampling upon their riders and enemies mixed together. But the Gauls suffered most of all from the heat and thirst, to which they were unaccustomed, and most of their horses were destroyed by being driven against the kontoi of the enemy.’
The survivors were forced back upon the legionaries, taking with them a badly wounded Publius. They all retreated to a hillock, only to be shot up by the horse archers, then charged by the cataphracts. Only 500 men survived to be taken prisoner. Publius committed suicide, as did the other Roman notables present.
Meanwhile, Crassus had started to move forward, coming to his son’s aid, but presently he and his army beheld Publius’ head being carried forward on spearpoint by the Parthians. Although Crassus put on a brave front, his men lost heart. Now the Parthians returned to the attack, this time adding the charges of their cataphracts to the arrows of their horse archers. Some men dared to attack the cataphracts, but did little damage and were quickly killed, for the kontoi struck with such force, Plutarch claims, that they could often penetrate two men’s bodies at once. Fighting in this manner continued until nightfall.
Retreat and Slaughter
The rest of the story may be summed up quickly. The Romans retreated by night, when the Parthians were ill-equipped to fight, leaving behind some 4000 wounded to be slaughtered by the enemy. Most of the Roman survivors made it to Carrhae, although four cohorts lost their way and were destroyed. Surena moved up to blockade the city, and the Romans tried to withdraw, again by night. Many escaped, over 10,000 in all, but Crassus was intercepted and killed, his head being carried to Armenia by Sillaces as a present for the king, who had just reached an agreement with Artavasdes. The two monarchs, enjoying a production of Euripides’ Bacchae at a banquet, saw Crassus’ head used as a prop in the play. As many as 20,000 other Romans met their ends in the desert, with 10,000 others being captured and enslaved.
Fortunately for the Romans, the all-cavalry Parthian armies were poor at siege warfare, and had a difficult time operating in forests and mountainous terrain, so their counter-invasions of Syria were easily repulsed and the war petered out. Over the decades, the Romans learned to cope with the Parthians. Roman shield-bearing cavalry could harass cataphracts with javelins while using their greater speed and agility to evade a countercharge, and chase away horse archers if there were not enough cataphracts to protect them. At short range, horse archers were at a disadvantage, lacking the shields western cavalrymen carried to protect themselves against missiles. A short, controlled charge could keep the horse archers out of effective range, but as the fate of Publius showed, it did not do to pursue the enemy too far. In addition, since a horse that has been ridden all day must rest and graze at night, Parthian camps were vulnerable to Roman night attacks, making close blockades of Roman cities dangerous for the Parthians and causing them to camp far from enemy forces. It was also useful to increase the number of missile-armed infantry in the army, particularly slingers, whose heavy stones and lead shot could injure even cataphracts. Crassus had too few light troops, and too many of them were javelin-throwers, to judge from the charge he ordered. The legionary square remained in use, with caltrops thrown down to maim the cataphracts’ horses. Finally, the Romans raised their own alae of horse archers, adding cataphracts in the third century AD.
St Mary of Zion Church buildings in Axum – the treasury building where the Ark of the Covenant is kept is on the left among the trees.
The Treasury containing the Ark of the Covenant.
The Queen of Sheba, known as Makeda, is supposed to have travelled from Axum in Ethiopia to visit King Solomon in Jerusalem. During her stay, Solomon not only dazzled her with his wisdom, but also tricked her by a clever ruse into having sexual relations with him. The Queen conceived a son, whom she bore upon her return to Axum. When he reached maturity, this son, Menelik, journeyed to Jerusalem to meet his father. At the completion of Menelik’s visit, Solomon commanded that the firstborn sons of the priests and elders of Israel accompany him to Aksum. Before setting out, however, Menelik and his companions led by Azariah, the son of the High Priest, stole the Ark of the Covenant from the Temple. Thus, the glory of Zion passed from Jerusalem and the Children of Israel to the new Zion, Axum.
The Axumites inhabited an area of eastern Africa lying in what is today Ethiopia. The peoples who settled here around 500 B.C.E. seem to have been a mixture of Semites from Yemen and settlers from the empire of Kush. The main centers of population were the city of Axum and the port of Adulis, both initially recorded in the first century C.E. For the first two centuries C.E., the Axumites controlled the Red Sea coastline and carried on extensive trade with Greek and Egyptian merchants, acting as the outlet for sub-Saharan products such as ebony, ivory, and exotic animals. By the third century, the Axumites were noted throughout the Middle East as a major empire, controlling not only the Horn of Africa but also the southern portion of the Arabian Peninsula, from which they collected tribute.
The exploits of the Axumite kings were recorded on stone monuments. The first major conqueror seems to have been Aphilas, who established Axumite dominance in the Yemen area, though it is impossible to tell exactly when that took place. The leader who dominated the expansion of the empire was Ezana in the fourth century. Records show that the Axumites still controlled Yemen, and Ezana campaigned around the borders, defeating harassing tribes and ultimately conquering the faded glory of Kush. Upon securing this conquest, Ezana gave credit to the Christian God, marking the fact that Axum was converted during his reign. At its greatest extent, Axum spread from the Arabian Peninsula across the Ethiopian plateau all the way to the Sahara. The last major exploit by an Axumite king took place in 525 when King Kaleb led a force of 30,000 to Nadjran on the Arabian Peninsula to avenge a massacre of Christians. He succeeded in this campaign and left behind a garrison of 10,000.
Control of extensive fertile land gave Axum a solid agricultural base for its economy, to which could be added a great amount of international trade. From the third century forward, Axum was well known for its architecture and monolithic monuments. It was also the first African nation to mint coins in gold, silver, and copper. The trade network to which Axum contributed brought travelers from all over the world. Apparently the Axumites were tolerant Christians, as evidence points to Jewish, Kushite, and even Buddhist enclaves. The empire remained important and profitable past the fall of Rome, and kept up good trade relations with the Byzantines, even though the Axumites embraced the monophysite views of the Egyptian church, which the Orthodox church considered heretical.
With the growth of Islam, the power of Axum began to slip, though the Axumites’ tolerant religious attitude is shown by the fact that early on, they sheltered persecuted Muslims from Mecca. This action stood them in good stead when Muslim conquerors spread through eastern Africa. Axum remained a Christian island in a sea of Islam and maintained cordial relations with their neighbors, but gradually the political center of the country retreated inland and trade declined. Though not conquered by Islam, Axum would not regain its former influence.
References: Buxton, David, The Abyssinians (New York: Praeger, 1970); Jones, A. H. M., and Elizabeth Monroe, A History of Ethiopia (Oxford: Clarendon, 1955); Mokhtar, G., Ancient Civilizations of Africa (Paris: UNESCO, 1990).
Maces, War Hammers, and Pollaxes
While swords were primarily used for slashing and thrusting, mounted cavalry also used a number of other close-range weapons, although none as common as the sword. The mace, which had been used since the twelfth century, was now often made entirely of iron, as opposed to earlier versions that consisted of a copper alloy or iron head mounted on a wooden shaft. It was therefore heavier and more capable of inflicting greater damage, and was especially effective against more heavily armored foes. The mace still interested many who described warfare in the late Middle Ages, as seen, for example, in the following statement of Geoffrey Chaucer: “With mighty maces the bones they to-brest.” Short war hammers consisting of a rectangular head, often with a backward protruding spike, were very effective from horseback and were common from the mid-thirteenth century, when one is shown in the hand of an anonymous English knight’s effigy in Malvern Priory Church. A surviving war hammer, dating from around 1450, in the Wallace Collection in London, has a hammer head that is square in shape, although turned at a 45 degree angle to present a diamond-shaped front; the pick is short, slightly curved, and equal in length to the head.
The axe, which earlier had, for the most part, been used primarily by the infantry and had fallen into disuse, again became popular and was used for fighting on foot, as well as by cavalry and in foot tournaments. Fitted with a long two-handed shaft, they were also usually furnished with a backward-facing short spike—a weapon called a pollaxe. Injuries, causing death, from the spikes of both war hammers and pollaxes have been identified in the skulls recovered from the graves of soldiers killed at the battles of Visby in 1361 and Towton in 1461.
Staff weapons, used both by foot and equestrian soldiers, are of great antiquity, but the period from 1300 was when they especially came into their own as an infantry weapon. In 1302, at the Battle of Courtrai, the Flemish townsmen from Bruges, Ypres, and Courtrai, armed, in the main, with staff weapons routed a superior and supposedly better-armed French army. The reaction to this victory, essentially by the lower and middle classes, and the large numbers of French cavalry dead, were noted throughout Europe and caused uproar among the nobles, knights, and the upper classes of society. The weapon, called a goedendag (literally “good morning” or “good day”), which caused such a devastating and unexpected victory, far from being sophisticated or innovative, was basically a heavy-headed club to which iron spikes were attached. Their use at Courtrai and, equally important, the discipline of the Flemish forces, mark the rise of the infantry armed with staff weapons as a potent force on the battlefields of Europe. This victory was followed by that of the Swiss using staff weapons at the battle of Morgarten against the Austrians in 1315. From this time on staff weapons played an increasingly important part on the battlefield—blocks of disciplined, well-trained, and well-drilled infantry, all armed with similar weapons, were common down to the seventeenth century.
The traditional infantry weapon, the spear or long spear as it became known in the fourteenth century, was around 15 to 18 feet long (5 to 6 meters) and was essentially a defensive weapon. It was used to extend the reach of the foot soldier in a thrusting motion that, when well directed, was effective against other infantry and mounted troops, especially when used in closely ordered formations. By the beginning of the fourteenth century, the spear had been joined, as already described, by other forms of staff weapons, in particular the goedendag. However, the increase in the use of armor, especially the development of the full-plate harness, led to the need for an infantry weapon that was capable of both thrusting and cutting actions. Essentially, the ability of plate armor to resist penetration, coupled with its smooth, rounded surfaces, which tended to deflect blows, meant that the thrusting spear was less effective. From the very end of the thirteenth century, there developed a new type of staff weapon, the halberd, which combined the spear with the long, two-handed axe. At first it consisted of a fairly broad blade with a spike projecting from the top secured to the end of a long pole— around 6 feet (2 meters) in length. It was used in a similar way to the spear as a thrusting weapon, but it could also be swung over the head and brought down with considerable force. During the fifteenth century, an extra spike was added to the axe portion of the head making it an even more formidable weapon.
The halberd is most closely associated with the Swiss armies of the later thirteenth and, especially, the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The Swiss had been granted rights of freedom, which carried with them the right to bear arms, and this resulted in a population that carried weapons as a norm of everyday life. This familiarity with arms, especially staff weapons, resulted in the creation of a voluntary, part-time army that was both well disciplined and skilled. And, in fact, Swiss mercenaries gained a considerable reputation all over Europe during the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries and were much sought after by military leaders and commanders. By the end of the fifteenth century, a very characteristic Swiss halberd had developed, although it is important to note that it was not just the weapon that made the Swiss such a formidable force but discipline and the ability to fight as a unit.
The halberd and the goedendag were joined by a variety of other staff weapons over this period, some very characteristic of particular areas and some more widely distributed around Europe. The glaive, a large cutting and thrusting weapon, had a long blade with a convex front edge and a straight back. Although it was never very common, it probably first appeared in Europe during the thirteenth century and was used throughout the end of the Middle Ages. Later, in the sixteenth century, it came to be used very much as a ceremonial weapon carried by official guards and in processions. The bill was far more commonly used throughout Europe in the later medieval period. Although there were considerable variations in its form, it generally consisted of a forward-facing hook with one or more spikes projecting from the rear and/or front. Simpler bills were very similar to halberds and were probably used in much the same way. Other, more complex types were developed. For example, the Welsh bill had a long slender curved blade and a right-angle spike, and the roncone, developed in Italy, had a long straight blade with a smaller curved hook and both top and backward-facing spikes. Finally, the partisan, a later type of staff weapon used throughout Europe from about 1500, was basically a long, flat blade tapering to a point, rather like an elongated spear.
Having been distracted by an open gate and the prospect of a quick victory, King Pedro’s besieging Aragonese army takes its ease almost in the shadow of the town walls. Suddenly, they perceive a column of cavalry moving swiftly south from an unguarded gate. Interest turns to alarm as the apparently fleeing column turns, splits into three and becomes an attacking formation. Two divisions launch themselves directly into the front of the surprised Aragonese and the third division is forgotten as the Aragonese forces focus on the immediate threat (a common occurrence in battle at close quarters). Reeling from the frontal hammer blow the disordered Aragonese fall back, disrupting the division behind. At just this point Simon de Montfort’s third division of crusader cavalry appears from their right, shieldless flank, and slams into the king’s reserve division. All three are routed by the decisive onslaught of a fraction of their own number.
The Languedoc region of France had shared the experiences of its neighbours: first the Romans who brought Christianity; then the Visigoths; the passage of the Vandals going south, followed by conquering Arabs going north; then liberation by Charlemagne going south with his Franks; and finally the arrival of feudalism. Through all this change the region retained some important characteristics. The language Oc survived, though it is barely spoken nowadays. A different interpretation of Christianity evolved – Catharism. Cathar society treated women as the equals of men and embraced the pleasures of song and dance (it is from this region that troubadours spread across Europe). The Cathars had no churches, only domestic meeting places where Good Men and Women preached to the faithful. Above them were deacons and bishops. The Good Men and Women rejected all materialism as unspiritual and therefore evil. They also condemned the established Catholic form of priesthood as being licentious, rapacious and materialistic.
For hundreds of years Catholic and Cathar tolerated each other, living in the same towns and villages. That tolerance started to crumble and dissent turned to criticism, then to dispute and, ultimately, intolerance. The Catholic archbishop wrote to the Pope about the situation. The Pope appointed a legate, who reported back to Rome that he had found an entrenched heresy. Next the Pope wrote to the local lord, Raymond IV; count of Toulouse, instructing him to act against the dissenters. He prevaricated and the Pope was exasperated. Catharism continued to spread. Eventually the Pope played his strongest card and declared a crusade against the heretics. An army assembled at Lyons on 24 June 1209, commanded by Arnaud Amaury, abbot of Citeaux, who was advised by Eudes III of Burgundy and Herve de Donzy of Nevers. They advanced to Valence, Montelimar fell, Beziers fell. Catholic and Cathar were slaughtered together.
Other towns fell to different columns. At Carcassone the heretics were allowed to go free, but the city was pillaged. When the 40 days were up the crusaders went home, almost. One minor lord was persuaded to stay. Simon de Montfort IV, father of the famous English rebel, agreed to remain and continue the fight.
Although, in the beginning, hundreds of Cathars were burnt as heretics, that persecution began to take second place to de Montfort’s carving out his own fiefdom among the gorges and peaks of the Pyrenees. As the seasons turned he found he could keep conquering because although Raymond IV was in the field against him, with a much larger army, he continued to prevaricate and would not be brought to battle. The town of Muret was taken in September 1212 with the aid of another batch of 40-day men. At about the same time the fiefdoms of Lords Comminges and de Bearn were also attacked and absorbed into de Montfort’s domain. This was a mistake – they were vassals of Pedro II, king of Aragon. To him they appealed for redress, after all Simon de Montfort was also a fellow vassal of the king, but he was setting himself up to be more powerful than his lord. Both sides, the abbot with Simon and the king of Aragon, lobbied the Pope in their cause. At an ecclesiastical council at Lavaur, Pedro was not allowed to speak, only to submit written argument and eventually the Pope sided with his own abbot. A showdown was inevitable. Pedro gave his protection to the people of Toulouse, revoked it for de Montfort and summoned his own host.
In September 1213 Pedro’s forces arrived at Muret. Inside were 30 French knights and 700 infantry holding the town for de Montfort. Pedro’s host included the men of Raymond IV; Lords Comminges and de Bearn. It was made up of between 2000 and 3000 mounted knights and sergeants plus an unknown but larger number of infantrymen. They camped to the north of the town above the small River Louge. The position was protected to the east by the Garonne and to the south by the Louge. It was, however, open to the west and north, and here Pedro’s troops erected the stone throwing engines with which they started to batter the walls on 11 September.
Meanwhile news of the attack had reached de Montfort at Fanjeaux 64km (40 miles) to the east. He had summoned his, much smaller, forces. Time being of the essence, they were cavalry only, consisting of 240 knights and 500 sergeants.
The resident defenders of Muret were too few to hold the walls of the town and the attackers swarmed in, just as de Montfort was seen arriving from the west. Whether by order or in panic the assaulting troops withdrew in haste. Better that than being caught in the rear by newly arrived knights. De Montfort entered the town unopposed. The next day negotiations were opened between de Montfort’s bishops and the king of Aragon. During this brief lull, the northern Toulouse gate, nearest to the Aragonese army, was left open (some say by design, some by mistake). Either way Pedro could not ignore such a gift and ordered it rushed by the count of Foix’s men who formed the Spanish vanguard, aided by some of Raymond IV’s foot soldiers from the rearguard.
The Spanish attempted to force their way in over the narrow Louge Bridge, foot soldiers and cavalry together. A few got into the town, but were there outnumbered, surrounded and those few that couldn’t escape were killed. The count ordered them to withdraw and eat before trying again. Meanwhile Simon had led his entire mounted force out of the Sales gate on the southern/western wall. He then organized them into three battles. The first two were to charge the front of the enemy; the third under his own command would sweep wide to the east and plunge onto the already engaged flank of the enemy. It was a bold plan. Each of his battles were but 250 strong. The Spanish vanguard easily matched that number on its own. But they had been distracted and at least some were taking lunch. Yet consider the time required to catch, saddle and bridle nearly 800 horses and arm the knights to ride them. This was surely no fortuitous series of coincidences. De Montfort’s men must have been standing by ready to move on command.
The first battle exited the gate heading south on the Avenue des Pyrenees. De Montfort, echoing a stratagem from the Chinese Sun Tzu, placed all the banners of his host in this first division. The head of the column wheeled off the road to their right and moved out beyond the concealing walls. Time was of the essence. They executed a right turn, forming one deep line, and crossed the Louge to advance rapidly on the enemy. The second column followed, passing the rear of the first before performing its own right turn. So the two lines were then advancing on the first Spanish division in echelon. The Spaniards were mesmerized by the advancing knights with all their banners. Chaos reigned with dismounted lords calling for their squires and horses; those mounted struggling to find their position in the line. The impact of the advancing crusaders scattered the count of Foix’s division like ‘dust before the wind’. The infantry ran for the camp while the king’s division struggled to maintain the line and was hit in turn by the pursuing horsemen. Simon, meanwhile, had stuck to his plan and now came in on the flank of the hapless men of Aragon. The king was killed in the melee and the rest fled, closely pursued by the desperate crusaders. Such was the disparity in numbers that de Montfort’s men could not afford to deplete their own strength by taking prisoners for ransom and a great number were killed.
Co-ordinating the manoeuvres of Simon’s two leading columns deserves some examination. Each would have been more than 500m (1640ft) long, assuming two abreast and allowing 4m (13ft) for each horse and space between it and the next. Turned into a line each would be only 307m (1007ft) long, 1.2m (4ft) for the frontage of each horse. The commander at the front would indicate the moment for the turn to be executed, but there was great potential for him to get it wrong. Turn the first column too early and the last man could still be in the city gate. Turn the second column early and it would overlap the rear of the first and some men would be ineffective. Turn it too late and the gap between lines would be too large, risking each being swamped by the enemy’s superior numbers.
There are two ways an efficient turn could have been achieved (although we don’t know which was used). Either the order to turn was given by the last man in the column as he reached the critical position or the commander used some mental calculation to register the distance covered. With modern infantry you can rely on counting a regular pace to judge these distances. Either way we must give credit to both de Montfort for his excellent plan and his subordinate commanders, Bouchard of Marly leading the first column and William d’Encontre leading the second, for its execution.
Battle of Quiberon Bay, 20 November 1759. The Brest squadron escaped late in the year, but was delayed by the need to join with transports and by contrary winds, giving Sir Edward Hawke an opportunity to attack in a high wind.
Sir Thomas Slade, Surveyor of the British Navy, 1755-71, working from Spanish and French warships captured in the 1740s, designed a series of two-decker 74-gun warships that were both manoeuvrable and capable of holding their own in the punishing close-range artillery duels of line of battle engagements.
European powers frequently copied each others’ developments. This copying could take the form of hiring foreign shipwrights and designers, as with Peter the Great’s reliance on Dutch and English workers, and of purchasing foreign warships. In the mid 1780s the Turks employed French experts on ship construction.
In overseas conflict, the British used weapons and tactics similar to those of their European rivals, and they benefited from the general increase in long-distance naval capability that stemmed in part from changes in ship design. A gap in weaponry capability was not therefore responsible for British success. The greater effectiveness of the British navy was largely due to the fact that it had more ships, to its extensive and effective administrative system, to the strength of public finances and to good naval leadership; Britain had a more meritocratic promotion system and more unified naval tradition than that of France, and a greater commitment of national resources to naval rather than land warfare, a political choice that reflected the major role of trade and the national self-image. This contrasted greatly with China, and thus the two strongest powers of the period, both of which greatly expanded territorially around 1760, were very different politically, geopolitically, and militarily. The French financial system lacked the institutional strength and stability of its British counterpart, and this badly affected French naval finances in 1759. The French also lacked an effective chain of naval command and trade was less important to their government and their political culture.
The British naval position had been challenged by the Bourbons in the period 1746-55, as the total displacement tonnage of warships launched during these years by the Bourbons was nearly three times that launched by the British. Fortunately for Britain, Spain did not join the Seven Years War (1756-63) until 1762, and by then France had been defeated at sea. The crucial campaign was that of 1759. The leading French minister, Choiseul, planned a naval concentration to cover an invasion of Britain, prefiguring the strategy of Napoleon. However, the division of the French navy between the distant bases of Brest and Toulon made this concentration difficult and, as in the Trafalgar campaign of 1805, the blockading British squadrons endeavoured to maintain the division. Again, as in 1805, it was easier for the British to maintain the blockade of nearby Brest and less easy to control more distant squadrons. The Toulon fleet under La Clue managed to leave first the harbour and then the Mediterranean, but it was pursued by Edward Boscawen and attacked near Lagos on the Portuguese coast on 18 August 1759. Stubborn resistance by the rearmost French warship, the Centaure, held off the British, while La Clue brought the rest of his fleet into neutral waters, but on the next day Boscawen violated Portuguese neutrality and launched a successful attack. Mortally wounded, La Clue ran his vessel ashore and burnt it to prevent it being taken by the British; the outnumbered French lost a total of five ships.
Bad weather forced Edward Hawke, the leading practitioner of close blockade, to lift his blockade of Brest in November, but the Brest fleet under Conflans failed in its attempt to reach Scotland via the west coast of Ireland. Trapped by Hawke while still off the Breton coast, Conflans took refuge in Quiberon Bay, counting on its rock-strewn waters and strong swell to deter Hawke’s ships. The British had little knowledge of the rocks in the bay, and it was far harder for sailing ships to operate safely inshore than it would later be for steamships, which were better able to hold their position in the face of strong winds. Nevertheless, on 20 November 1759 the determined Hawke made a bold attack. With topsails set, despite the ferocity of the gale, which blew at nearly forty knots, his ships overhauled the French rear division and forced a general action, in which British gunnery and seamanship proved superior and seven French ships were captured, wrecked or sunk. All possibility of a major French invasion of Britain was now gone and the British were confirmed in their view that they were the naval power.
This view was to be challenged in the next war, the American War of Independence. Thanks to much shipbuilding in the late 1760s and 1770s, especially by Spain, then one of the most dynamic states in Europe, by 1780 France and Spain combined had a quantitative superiority in naval tonnage over Britain of about 25 per cent. Partly as a result, the British were unable to repeat their success of the Seven Years War.
Map of Paris at around the time of the first Frankish kings, as drawn in 1705
25 November 885–October 886.
Location: on the Seine River in northeastern France.
Parisian: 200 men-at-arms. Commander: Count Odo.
Norse: perhaps 30,000 men. Commanders: Sigfred and Rollon.
The siege proved the strategic value of Paris to the remainder of France, and the negotiations to lift the siege brought about the downfall of King Charles the Fat, ending the Carolingian dynasty.
The marauding Vikings approached Paris by sailing up the River Seine with 700 ships, sacking the town of Rouen on the way. Paris refused to let them through. The main city was on its island with fortified bridges to either bank. The Vikings first attacked the tower defending the bridge on the right bank. They attacked using engines and belfries, fire and mines, but failed to break in. They built a camp with the intention of starving the city into submission. However, they did not have enough men to surround the city completely, and so the defenders’ supply lines remained open. They made one major attempt by storm, attacking from both land directions and from the river at the same time. This also failed. After some months the Plague hit the defenders. The city’s bishop died but its count, Odo, fought on. A relief force sent by Charles the Fat was repelled and lost its leader but persuaded the Vikings to come to agreement. They were allowed to go on to continue their campaign in Burgundy but Paris was never entered.
One of the reasons that the Carolingian Empire struggled was that it came under attack from a new wave of outside peoples – notably the Saraceps from the south, the Magyars from the east and the Vikings from the north. By 885 the west was under Charles the Fat, the son of Louis the German, who briefly seemed to be reconstructing the empire under his rule. In fact West Francia was disintegrating and the defence against the Vikings had fallen into the hands of lesser men. The most effective of these was the family of Robert the Strong who was made count of Anjou in 861 by Charles the Bald. He commanded Neustria for that king and was made missus for Maine, Anjou and Tours. From 863-66 he won three crucial victories against the Vikings. In 865 Charles replaced Robert by his own son, Louis the Stammerer, giving Robert a position in Burgundy, but in the end was forced to restore Robert, who was called marquis of the Breton March. In 866 Robert the Strong met his death at the Battle of Brissarthe against the Vikings under Hasting.
Robert was killed, but the Vikings were defeated. Nevertheless, the Viking threat continued and attacks were made along virtually every major river. Towns were taken and sacked. The Vikings arrived in ever greater numbers and began to settle at various points along the French coast, mainly around river mouths. One base was the island of Oiselle in the Seine near Rouen. It is probable that the camps they built contributed to the development of medieval castles. They were defences of relatively small size, usually with earth bank ramparts and surrounding ditches or moats.
Robert the Strong’s son Odo was a minor at the time of his father’s death. When he reached his majority he partly recovered his father’s position and was named Count of Paris. He held that office during the greatest test of the city against the Vikings. The Seine was one of the most attractive routes for the Northmen, who had attacked Paris several times before. In 845 they had demanded and received 7000 pounds in silver as a tribute to leave. Paris was sacked in 857 and attacked again in 861 and 865. The Vikings took advantage of the disunity after the death of Louis III in 882 to sack Rouen in 885 and move on to mount a major siege of Paris.
The Siege of Paris: 885–86
The siege of Paris was an important political event. The city was saved and, more important in the long run, its chief saviour was Robert the Strong’s son, Count Odo. Appeal was made to the emperor, Charles the Fat, but no help appeared for a year. The siege played a big part in bringing Odo to prominence and eventually to the throne as the first Capetian monarch (888-98).
It was also an interesting siege that was described in detail – a rare thing for early medieval sieges. Furthermore, the account was by an eyewitness who was in the city (the ‘queen’ of cities to him) during the events he recounted. The author was Abbo, then a young monk at St Germain- des-Pres, an abbey outside the fortified city on the left bank. Abbo’s work was written only a decade after the events. It is not perhaps a perfect account for modern historians. It was written in verse and at times seems to exaggerate and embroider. Abbo’s own abbot did not think much of it and modern historians have criticised the Latin – but it remains a vital piece of evidence.
In 885 the Vikings moved up the Seine once more to Paris. They came on 24 November in 700 ships led by Sigfred. There were new fortifications facing them, on the Seine bridges and in the city. The city consisted of dwellings on two islands in the Seine – now called the Ile-de-Ia-Cite and the Ile-St-Louis – and a defended ancient region on the left bank. There were houses and abbeys on both banks, but the islands were the city’s heart and had recently had their defences updated (though not completed). The islands are still the centre of modern Paris, holding such buildings as Notre-Dame, the Sainte-Chapelle and the Conciergerie. It is not difficult to stand on one of the modern bridges or by the river and visualize the early medieval city.
The layout of the city meant that the Vikings could only pass further along the Seine by getting past the fortified bridges and would only be safe if they could take Paris by siege. The main defender of the region for many years had been Hugh the Abbot, but he had become ill and took no part in the defence of Paris in 885. He died the following year. The bishop of Paris, Gozlin of St-Denis, did take part in the defence. He shared authority in the city with Odo, Count of Paris. However, Gozlin also died in 886, and the burden of defence fell on Count Odo, the son of Robert the Strong.
First the Vikings tried to destroy the tower that defended the bridge leading from the Ile-de-Ia-Cite to the right bank of the Seine. If successful they could sail their ships through. The tower stood on the mainland, preventing access to the bridge and the main City Island. It was a recent addition to the defences, only begun in 870, but it had not been completed through the negligence of the citizens. The Vikings left their ships and attacked the tower from land. They failed to break in. During the night the Franks repaired the damage and even managed to add an extra storey to the tower.
At dawn the Vikings returned to the attack. They produced siege engines (ballistae) to shoot bolts at the defenders, and used picks to try and destroy the wall of the tower. The West at this time may not have possessed Greek Fire, but it did have inflammable materials. The defenders poured down a heated liquid mix of hot wax and pitch onto the heads of the Vikings. The defenders had powerful spear catapults and one bolt transfixed seven Vikings like a human kebab. A joker among the Franks suggested they should be hauled off to the kitchens. According to Abbo the tower was defended by 200 men while the Vikings had a force of 40,000 men – we may doubt the size of the latter. It is clear that from the beginning the Vikings possessed the usual array of siege weapons. We hear not only of the catapults and siege mining, but also of stone-throwing engines.
For three days the Vikings kept up a constant attack on the tower. They tried fire against the gate until smoke enveloped all the combatants. The defenders made a successful sortie and the Vikings decided to draw off from the tower to try a new approach. They now built a camp on the right bank and constructed new engines, including hurling machines that threw not only stones but also lead grenades.
The Vikings tried a new all-out attack with three land forces as well as ships. On land they formed a tortoise of shields over their heads to attack the wall and to try to fill the ditch. A belfry that the Vikings had built was wheeled up to the wall with archers inside. The Vikings built mounds to the height of the walls to use as ramps for attack engines. One engine was used against the tower, one against the gate and one from the height we now know as Montmartre. The defenders themselves brought up engines to face the attacks. Sorties captured two Viking belfries, but at one point the attackers did break through the wall. Count Odo had to fight hand to hand on the walls until the enemy was repulsed. It is clear that the Viking force was not enormous since they did not have enough men to surround the whole city.
The defenders then suffered from plague, which killed Bishop Gozlin. They did, however, have hopes of relief. Charles the Fat, who had become emperor in 881, promised aid. He sent Henry Duke of the Saxons, who fell when his horse stumbled into a Viking ditch. He was captured and killed. Charles the Fat then marched and a victory was won outside the gates of the city.
The siege was brought to an end by agreement in 886. Charles the Fat made terms that included payment of a tribute and he allowed the Vikings to move on to Burgundy. Count Odo and the Parisians refused to let the Vikings pass through Paris on the Seine and they had to drag their boats overland before continuing. Probably the chief consequence of the siege was the enhanced reputation of Count Odo.
The people of Paris, not unnaturally, felt betrayed. Odo swore not to pay the ransom and to continue the battle. He refused to let the Vikings past his island, so they instead dragged their boats overland to the Marne River, from which they sailed off toward Burgundy. That, indeed, had apparently been Charles’ intention, for the Burgundians were then in revolt and they would have their hands full with the Vikings. What seemed good politics to Charles seemed cowardice to his people. “They had been prepared to die themselves in order to hold the rest of the kingdom safe. This safety Charles, with breathtaking ingratitude, with an almost criminal heedlessness, had bargained away” (Brent, Viking Saga, p. 58). The following year, 888, Charles was deposed and his kingdom divided among more worthy rulers. Odo became king of Neustria, the western Frankish kingdom; in two generations the crumbling dynasty established by Charlemagne was replaced by the house of Capet.
The defense of Paris illustrated better than any other argument how valuable was its location. Neither Charlemagne nor Charles had used it for a capital, but its situation covering the convergence of rivers that spread throughout France proved that whoever controlled it controlled north-central France.
Odo did indeed pay the promised ransom to the Vikings as they sailed away in 889, and true to their word they never attacked so far inland again. Their settling in the coastal lands that became the province of Normandy meant that the Norsemen (Normans) finally came to stay rather than hit and run.
Paris was saved largely by the determination of its citizens, who held firm, repaired the damage to the defences and made regular sorties behind bearers carrying saffron-coloured banners. The main focus of the conflict was the fortified bridge from the island to the right bank, preventing Viking progress down the Seine. Although the defences were not complete, the height of the tower gave the citizens a sufficient advantage over the attacking Vikings.
November 24th 885, King Sigfred * sailed up the Seine River towards Paris with 40.000 Danes in 700 large long ships and an unknown number of smaller vessels. The fleet is told to have been as long as 2 Gaelic miles, (4,5 km.) sailing up the river.
November 25th, King Sigfred went to bishop Gozlinus to ask for permission to pass Paris. When this was refused he warned the bishop that Paris would have to face the consequences, and thus Paris under the rule of duke Odo ~ was besieged.
The Northern gate into the city had a large bridge ** and was only protected by a stone tower under construction.The Vikings concentrated their attack on this bridge and tower. The fighting went on till the sun went down. During the night a wooden construction was built on top of the tower, making it 1 ½ times as tall as the day before.
A monk by the name of Abbo was inside Paris during the siege, on November the 26 885 he writes:
“The sun and the Danes greeted the tower at the same time and threw themselves into wild fights with the believers. Javelins were flying here and there through the air, and the ripping projectiles of their machines mixed in with them, and blood was flowing. The city shook, Horn-signals sounded and the citizens called for help to the failing defences. The Christians made sure to stand against blow with blow. The radiant Count Odo strengthened the exhausted, walked the tower killing enemies and got Oil and wax that was boiled in pots. Stones thrown from the tower crushed and shook the painted round-shields. Then – A round wheel thrown from the tower knocked 6 men down and sent their souls to Avernus ^. Viking riders returning from plundering the area threw themselves into the fighting, rested and with full stomachs. Soon the wounded sought the smaller ships, where the Danish women met them with scorn ^^.”
The Danes tried to burn the tower, but ample supplies of water barrels saved it. On top of the tower was now raised a yellow banner to scare the Danes, (this could have been “Oriflame”, the war-banner of Charlemagne).
The Danes drew off the attack and built a campaign version of a Trelleborg for their winter-camp +.
Towards the end of January 886, after what Abbo describes as cruelty to the people, (stuff like setting slaves free and enslaving the free) the Danes started building rams to knock down the tower. The Vikings constructed two rams, each with 16 wheels and room for 60 men inside to work it, but as they were making the third, ballista shots from the city killed both the master constructors. They then seemed to give up the idea of the rams and according to Abbo;
“They made 1000 leather-tents, on long poles, each serving as protection for 3 – 4 men. That night there was no sleeping. The Vikings were sharpening their arrow, javelins and blades and strengthening their shields.”
On the morning of January 31 886 Abbo writes:
“The old radiant sun-god rises in his swift chariot and drives away the nightly shades … Look, then the insane offspring of Satan storms from their camp to the tower, their shoulders edged with bows and steel weapons in hand. Like light bees seeking their hive to bring home thyme and cinnamon from the flowers on the trees and the beautiful field #. Thousands of lead bullets rained down over the city, and heavy catapults were showering the bridge and tower. The god of war arose and ruled on both sides. The metal bells from every church filled the empty space with loud and sad soundings. The tower tottered, the people trembled, trumpets sounded a mighty roar, and all were struck with fear. When the unfriendly people renewed the fight with uncovered faces and naked arms, their upright yew-bows were transformed to curved ones. The shield sighed when sharp rocks hit them, and chainmails were pierced by the cruel point of swords.“
The following night the Vikings brought the “leather tents” in front of the tower and took turns sleeping while others rained poisoned arrows against the tower all night. The next morning on the 1st of February 886, the Vikings started filling up the ditches and moat around the tower, at first with dirt, hay, branches of wood, and whines, and then with cattle, bulls, that they killed. Finally they started killing their prisoners and using their dead bodies to fill the moat. When bishop Gozlinus saw this, he prayed in tears to the holy mother, and an arrow quickly sought out the executioner, who fell in the moat with his victims ##.
The next day the Danes set three tall ships ablaze and sent them towards the bridge. They had only scorn and mockery for the citizens of Paris crying for help to Saint Germain, but miraculously all three ships hit the stone-foundation of the bridge, and the people of Paris were able to sink the ships before they could do any real damage.
That night Sigfred withdrew the army from the northern bridge and abandoned the rams. On February 3rd some of the Vikings went raiding east of Paris on horseback while others occupied the Southern shore of the Seine River. From the church of Saint Germain on the south side of the Seine the stories of miracles are many; the saint was apparently bound on protecting his town. One Viking lost his mind, the second he broke a window in the church, another fell off the Spire, (whatever he was doing up there). One went blind looking at the grave of Saint Germain, one fell dead went he touched the grave and one stabbed himself with his sword trying to open it.
On the night of February 5th 886, the water rose in the Seine River and washed away the southern bridge. This again was seen as a miracle of Saint Germain.
The southern bridge only had a wooden tower for protection, and on the morning of February 6th 886 the Danes set fire to a wagon full of straw, and pushed it towards to South tower. The people of Paris were completely unprepared for this, and had only one small water bucket in the tower, and they even dropped it out of the tower by mistake.
Soon the last 12 fighters in the tower sought refuge in the remains of the bridge. The Danes talked them into surrendering, and then killed them and dumped their bodies in the river. One however gets away and swims across to the city, and it is from him that Abbo knows the story of the fall of the southern tower. Paris had felt comfortable that after the miracles of Saint Germain, no one would dare attack the lands belonging to the church and monastery of the saint. The southern bridge and tower were on the monastery’s land.
The Danes now proceeded to raid all the land between the Seine and the Loire Rivers, thus cutting off all supply lines to Paris. The brave but a little foolish Abbot Ebolus, nephew to Bishop Gozlinus led a small party of men to burn down the Danish camp, but they were too few and they were forced to retreat. Abbo says he saw this with his own eyes from the wall of the city. The Danes then used the church of Saint Germain as a stable for cows, sheep, pigs and goats. But when the cooks came to get the animals, they had all died and were already rooting. (Another one of Saint Germain’s miracles).
At the end of March 886 Duke Heinrich of Saxony came to aid Paris, bringing large amounts of food and other supplies. He also stole a great number of horses from the Danish camp. But by the beginning of April Heinrich went back to Saxony.
One day around this time, count Odo was negotiating with king Sigfred outside the city. Some of the Danes tried to capture the count, and almost succeeded with Count Odo fleeing back to Paris for his life.
King Sigfred got really upset about this incident, as he was getting tired of the siege, and made new negotiations with Odo, who paid him 60 pounds of silver to leave the area of Paris. The problem now was that many of the king’s men did not want to go home. They wanted to take Paris. Sigfred said fine, have a go and he promised them to stay and watch.
After another failed attempt to take the North tower, Sigfred believed he had seen enough and went home with his 60 pounds of silver and some of the men.
The rest of the army stayed behind and continued the siege. The citizens of Paris were so despondent they were carrying the holy remains of Saint Germain around on the walls of the city for protection.
In early 887 Count Odo leaves Paris to go to the Emperor Carl the Fat to get help, and returns with the very same Duke Heinrich of Saxony who assisted the city the year before.
While inspecting the enemy lines Heinrich’s horse trips and falls. A couple of Danes spring out from hiding kill the Duke and steal his armour and weapons.
At last the Emperor himself arrives at Paris in the spring of 887 and camps at Mont Marte. He pays the remaining Vikings 700 Pounds of silver and allows them to sail, (and in effect raid) up the Seine River as far as Sens. Thus the Danes lifted the siege of Paris and went home.
*Some believe Sigfred to be identical to Sigurd Wormseye, son of Ragnar Lodbrog, although the name itself Wormseye, could have come from the fact that he went to Eu, (in Normandy), with a man named Wurm. Names and word do have a tendency to get twisted over many years, and long distances.
~ According to Abbo, Duke Odo of Paris had lost his right hand in battle, and had it replaced by an iron fist of no less strength. Abbo does however not explain how Odo was able to wield weapons.
** The northern bridge of Paris was situated where the Pont-Au-Change is now. The stone tower would have been on the Place-Du-Chatelet. The Seine River was wider at this point then than it is now, and there would have been a drawbridge of sorts to allow ships to pass the city. This will explain why the Vikings spent so much effort in taking the northern bridge, because it would allow them access further up the Seine River.
^ Avernus is an early medieval term for realm to which all heathens went when they die.
^^ I would like to know how Abbo could possibly have overheard what went on in the Danish camp by the river, while he was inside the city. It is most likely an attempt to discredit the Vikings, by saying that they cried over small injuries. It does however state the fact that women were a part of the Army on campaign.
+ Dudo, who wrote the history of the dukes of Normandy, says that he has seen, the ruins of such a Trelleborg type Campaign fortress with his own eyes. He also states that Rollo, (Rolf of Lejre) the first Duke of Normandy, (crowned 911), was leading the raiding riders at the Paris siege in 885 – 887.
# Abbo seems to be raving a bit here, but let’s give it to him; he did think that he was going to die at this point, and in shear frustration on a cold January morning with impending death by mad heathens, he visualises the heathen to be nothing more they pretty little harmless bees.
## This was of course seen as a miracle, and act of god, if you like. Personally I believe it only indicates that someone shot the executioner on the bishop’s order.