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  • The Army That Was Defeated by a River December 7, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval , trackback

    [UNVERIFIED CONTENT] A hot air balloon flight over River Nile in the early morning.

    There are good historical records of armies fighting animals, armies fighting frost bite (the Wehrmacht from 1941 onwards) and one doubtful case of an army accidentally fighting itself. But Beach has recently been reading about a remarkable instance of an army that fought a river, and lost. The year is 1221, the army in question are the warriors of the fifth crusade, the country is Egypt, the river is, of course, the Nile, the mother of the Mediterranean, and if not the cradle of civilization then a respectable state-run kindergarten.

    The fifth crusade, after the dishonours of the fourth crusade, actually began as a fairly successful enterprise. Crusaders had learnt the crucial lesson that the best way to Jerusalem was paradoxically through Egypt (Richard the Lionheart docet). They had made a beachhead in Egypt and had, after a long and hard siege, captured the city of Damietta. Then, the crusaders made the fateful decision to head inland: a decision that was the medieval equivalent of Napoleon strapping on his winter mittens and pointing east or Crassus riding into the desert.  The Franks camped at Symonis several days south and their more perceptive leaders came quickly to the conclusion that the river would work against them. The Egyptians had lined the Nile to their rear with watchmen, bringing up boats, and had effectively cut off the crusaders’ supplies. The crusaders waited until nightfall, 26 August, and then retreated south towards Damietta as quickly as they could. Nature, though, was against them. The Nile was in full flood and this had already disoriented the Europeans. But things were to get worse. Sultan Al-Kamil realizing that the Crusaders were  in a weak state, in a land they did not comprehend, ordered the calig (dykes) to be cut. The Nile that had been high now consumed the landscape. The army, the leaders of whom were wearing heavy plate mail remember, found themselves swamped as they fought south in a nightmare nocturnal world of rising water. James of Vitry, who lived through those awful hours, remembered it with a Biblical quotation: ‘As for that night, let darkness seize upon it; let it not be joined unto the days of the year, let it not come into the number of the months’ (Job). The Crusaders had been defeated not by scimitars but by waves and by mud and by drownings: the surrender that followed closed what had been the most successful Crusading season since 1099, but it closed it with the slamming door of disaster. Many died, some were ransomed.

    Other examples of water destroying an army: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    22 Dec, Diana Brooks via Facebook writes ‘Operation Cottage was a tactical maneuver which completed the Aleutian Islands campaign. On August 15, 1943, Allied military forces landed on Kiska Island, which had been occupied by Japanese forces since June, 1942. The Japanese, however, had secretly abandoned the island two weeks prior, and so the Allied landings were unopposed. Despite this, after over two days in thick fog and in a confused state of affairs, U.S. and Canadian forces mistook each other for the enemy. The brief firefight left 32 dead, with a further 50 wounded on either side and 130 trench foot wounds.[1] Allied forces suffered over 300 casualties in total during the operation, due to stray Japanese mines, friendly fire incidents, and the difficult terrain.’ Thanks Diana!