Sunday, 3 August 2014

Battles Banners and Sieges Part 2

"The nice thing about being on the inside of a siege..." Mogmush's slightly slurred sentance was cut off by the young man next to him.

"Nice thing? What nice thing?" Bort looked around with wild eyes, his hands gripped the oaken uprights of the Hoarding near him with white knuckles. "We're surrounded, utterly and completely surrounded! I've seen the machines they're building over there. We're going to be flattened! They'll crush the walls and grind us into the dust when they pour over what's left! We're all going to die!" His voice rose to a wail. It went on for some time and Mogmush found himself leaning back to avoid the worst of the noise. 
Bort slumped down against the parapet like a puppet with its strings cut, his eyes staring vacantly.

"Well." Mogmush paused and took a swig from the wine bottle in his hand. "I was going to say that it's a great excuse to raid the wine cellars." He paused, thoughtfully swilling wine around his mouth and scratching at something under his flapping loincloth. "When you put it like that though... It's an even better reason." He held the bottle out to Bort.

Sieges!
The dictionary defines a a Siege as; The process of surrounding a fortified place in such a way as to isolated it from supplies and help.
I would define it as bottling some poor sod in their bolt hole and hoping they die of starvation before you die of dysentery.

I know about Sieges! They're how you get into castles!
Well, yes and no. As the dictionary so helpfully tells us, you can Besiege anything that is fortified. Waiting to get into a pub before opening times is technically a Siege. Historically, cities were regularly Besieged as were homes, pubs, forts, lighthouses and trees.

For the most part, to keep things simple, I will be talking about walled towns/cities and castles/forts. Mostly because it is very warm today and I don't want to strain myself.

OK. So what would be the best way to Besiege a...place?
Good question!
Counter to HH (Hollywood History) Sieges did not involve multitudinous hordes sitting around for half an hour before flinging themselves at walls. Equally, most fortified places did not have a small army for a garrison.
Caernarfon castle in Wales (which is enormous for those who haven't seen it) had a garrison of about forty men. Many of these would have been carpenters, cooks etc. The main reason being that supplies run out faster if you have more people inside the walls.
Castles were designed to be defended by as few people as possible, city and town walls were built with a similar veiw in mind but on a much larger scale.

Right. So how would you defend the walls?
Well to answer this you are going to have to know and understand the parts of the walls that our valiant garrison will be fighting at.

Parapets
These are the extensions of the walls running out from a roof or perhaps a covered tower.
Hoardings
Hoardings are temporary wooden structures which extend from the walls and were designed to be used during Sieges and withdrawn in peacetime. Often however they were left in place and some examples still exist. The main advantage that Hoardings gave to defenders was an increased arc of fire and greater cover. Hoardings hung over the walls allowing defenders to fire/drop missiles directly onto attacking troops who might otherwise be protected from such unsightly behaviour by the angle of the wall and their own missile troops.
Portcullis
The Portcullis is that spiky climbing frame thing that drops down in front of the gates. It's main purpose was to be a sacrificial layer between the enemy and the gates. A job it tended to do very well especially when combined with:
Murder Holes
More or less what it says on the tin. Holes through which you muyder.
Drawbridge
A bridge which you withdraw in some fashion.
Not much for inventive names were they?
No, they were not. That said, a simple and straightforward name is always more useful, less chance of confusion when people start shooting things at you.

Crenelations
Otherwise known as battlements, these are the jagged bits on the top of the walls and turrets.
Motte
AKA Mound. Found more often in castles that began as wooden forts, a motte is a large mound of earth. Ancient man found that it was far easier to bash the noggins of anyone he didn't like by being higher up than them.
Ramparts
Actually the large earthworks that curtain walls were usually built on or behind.

The are others but for the most part they are easy to understand.

Attacking, Defending and the counters to each, more or less.

  • The best way to take a fortified position is with as little effort as possible. Starvation is the easiest of these methods, or thirst if the place has no source of water of its own. A hungry man cannot fight long and a man with the splitting headache of dehydration is going to be fairly easy to topple. 

The way this happens is by sitting enough men on the entrances to the target and denying everything that tries to get through the gates. The drawback to this is the risk of being encircled by a larger enemy force. There is also the large risk of disease spawning in the trenches you'd need to dig in order to hide from the enemy arrows as well as the risk of your supplies being cut off.

A force finding the,selves in such a situation would do all it could to alert any nearby allies while launching small raids from Sallyports(read; small doors) to unsettle the besiegers as much as possible. Nothing will put you off a siege like the chance of waking up dead.


  • The second way to topple a place is to get through or over the walls. A variety of engines of war were constructed for that very purpose. The Mangonel was designed to hurl huge and vastly heavy rocks at a wall until it fell over, the Trebuchet was built to hurl missiles and dead pigs etc, with great accuracy either over or into walls. Chemical warfare was also on the menu with rotten carcasses able to drop from the sky and make a mess on the other side. Battering rams were also popular, being a no nonsense sort of way to get through a gate or the weak point of a wall. The other way to get through a wall is by collapsing it from beneath. Assuming there was no moat or at least it was a dry moat, it would be possible to tunnel under the walls of a strong place, building a wooden structure behind you to support the tunnel. Once the tunnel was sufficiently long herd a bunch of luckless and not too tasty piggies in and set fire to the lot. The pig fat would burn intensely and create major problems for the foundations of the wall above. Rochester castle was toppled by this very method by King John, yes that one from that Disney cartoon with the animals. 

  • The final method is the most simple. Storm the walls and the gate with everything you have. This is either an act of uber confidence or utter desperation. Storming the walls is a difficult prospect however. Even one or two men at the battlements can make gaining the top a nightmarish prospect for even the most determined. If you ever played 'King of the Castle' on a hill or up a tree you'll know this firsthand. Storming and holding a breach is the sort of act that can go horribly wrong, if the people on top are strong, lucky and good with the aim of heavy rocks then climbing a ladder to the top can be the death of you. 
Mogmush ginned and selected another rock from the pile next to him. He hefted the skull sized lump of stone and grinned at the horrified Bort. 

"The trick is to aim for the ladder! They can't climb what isn't there!" He followed the words by darting around the edge of the battlement and letting the stone go.

"Weeeeee!" He paused and looked down for a moment before ducking back and grabbing his bottle. "Must have been a hundred on that ladder. Maybe more."

Bort looked at him and then peered around the crennelation he had been lurking behind. His gaze darted from the grinning barbarian to the howling masses below them.

"Can you count?"


Mogmush looked at the younger man and took another swig. 

"Nope. Never quite managed the knack." The bottle in his hand clunked emptily and Mogmush raised his eyebrow at it in a sad fashion.

"Weeeeeell...What difference does it make? There's sodding loads of them." 

Bort suddenly yelped in surprise and scrambled for the axe near him as an orc's bare head appeared through the gap between the men. The orc got an arm through the gap and blurted in surprise as Mogmush's empty bottle crashed onto its head. 
Mogmush followed the blow with a swift boot that showed Bort rather more than he wanted to see. The orc squealed as it toppled backwards over the embrasure and Bort heard the cries of the ones below it as they were knocked from the ladder. Mogmush grabbed the pushpole leaning on the stones, a simple wooden cross on a very long stick it was made to knock ladders over. 

"Fuck! Off!" 

The ladder slowly toppled away with more screams from the beings on it. 

"Oh yes. Swear at the buggers. That'll make them go away." Bort grumbled as he moved to select a rock.