Dedicated to the professional military and ethical competence of the original Order of Knights Templar towards developing the same for the challenges of the modern world, specifically the Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem (OSMTH)and of the Grand Priory of St Joan of Arc of Mexico and Latin America
What is medieval history without castles, sieges, drama and heroism? The subject of the art of fortification during the time of the Templar order is a big subject with many exhaustive tomes replete with illustrations and references.In keeping with the needs of the knight whose need to know in the saddle, under fire, or siege, shortness is Godliness (cleanliness was never a strong virtue in those days).
Fundamentals of fighting haven’t really changed save as the impact of technology on people, purpose and terrain.
A modified code of the Four F’s of Fighting (no relation to F4F) specify four actions regarding the enemy:
Find, Fix, Fight and Follow through.
FIND: reconnaissance, surveillance, and intelligence to determine the location, disposition and composition of enemy forces. This gives a rough calculation of the capabilities and weaknesses of the enemy to attack, defend, withdraw, or reinforce.
That is why taking the high ground is a central theme in combat operations
FIX: Force the enemy to deploy from the march, and restrict his tactical maneuvering. In the defense, this is the placement of obstacles the retard movement in or out of places to his advantage. In the offense, this is placing fires or close combat on key parts of the enemy to restrict the range of options of fires and movement available to the enemy, as in pinning them down.
FIGHT: Once fixed, the enemy can be closed with and/or fired upon to destroy the capabilities of the enemy to move and shoot. This is so closely related to Fixing the enemy in practice that fixing flows into fighting as in determining who retains the advantage to move or shoot. In this regard, a successful retreat means that the final blow by the enemy was deterred leaving the forces to fight another day.
FOLLOW THROUGH: Following though means recovery, restoration and reordering one’s forces to continue the fight or leave on one’sown option. In Korea, this meant that once an objective (hill top) was taken, a Chinese counter attack was already moving through those kicked off your hill, calling for an immediate defensive stance.
And preparing to move onto the next High Ground either front, rear, or flank that affords observation and/or protection from enemy fires and observation.
The essence of fortifications is to block movement to the cookie jar (your kitchen) with obstacles and fires, by creating one’s own High Ground (walls, towers, gates, etc) from which fires can be poured down on enemy forces in range.
Defense of the Cookie Jar
The question of where to fortify depends on the purpose of why to fortify of which is the object of protections (The Cookie Jar) with respect to the location and orientation of the fortifications: The “cookie jar” is either in front, behind oryou have it in the fortification.
You have the cookie jar. Having the cookie jar (your treasury, your own fanny, or those of your allies) mitigates towards fortifying a place far from easy access, and difficult to assails. The favor hill tops above the fray. The fortifications of the Assassins at Alamut were on a remote mountain peak.Chateau Gaillard built by Richard the Lion Heart in France is another.
Chateau Gaillard by Richard I
The cookie jar is behind you.This applies to fortifications of towns, ports, and important locations religious, economic, or political that is fixed in location, not always easy to defend.Carcasonne is one of the best preserved city fortifications and the greatest of all were the walls of Constantinople. The Great Wall of China was to keep the Mongols and Turks from the great cookie jar that was China.
The cookie jar is in front of you.The Templar Knights and the other holy orders of knights had a primary mission of protecting Pilgrims going to Jerusalem and other holy sites.The “cookie jar” in this case was the Pilgrims moving from one point to another. Fortifications in support of this often were small and positioned at strategic locations that could provide cover for Knights on duty and a temporary refuge for pilgrims.These include many of the great works such as the Krak des Chevalier in Syria, maintained by the Hospitallers.After years of successful defense, the Krak fell to deception and a lack of proper OPSEC (Operations Security): they accepted a fake surrender agreement from next higher.
Krak des Chevallier - Syria
Handy Terrain Analysis
Handy terrain analysis is a good predictor of those places where cookie jars that need protecting (other than your own) as military movement and the movement of goods and people follow the path of least resistance favoring places where multiple routes must come together (El Paso, Petra, Vienna, London, Manhattan, Paris, St Louis, Buda Pest, et al) or that multiple routes are more accessible.
Generally, those are places where the mode of transportation changes, or on the far side of an obstacle (river, mountain pass) like Denver, Koln, Frankfurt am Main, Amsterdam, and Rome.The factors that favor commerce create cookie jars that need to be protected.
The exact siting of a fortified work (which isn’t always a castle as a residence) depends on finding the most defensible terrain upon which to build the works that fits the mission.
Works designed to protect something (the cookie jar is behind you) such as towns, ports, towns or even cities have to find a ring of defensible positions around the entire location. The choice of sites has to compete with the best place to defend versus the limits of materials. This is also true of major works such as the Great Wall of China and the Roman Limes that were built across northern Britain and from the Mouth of the Rhine to the Danube.
But at this junction we will look at the components of a fortified work that go into any of the works be they behind or before the cookie jar or actually have it. Consequently a glance at a topographic map to check out the major ridges and river reveal the logic behind the locations of cookie jars, and the military aspects thereof.
Flat or Not Flat. Wet or Dry?
There are two basic choices in siting the fortification: the ground is flat or it is not. And when it is flat, is it wet. The engineer then will reinforce the slope and angle of the existing terrain, built high ground from scratch, or dig a moat filled with water too wide to jump across and deep enough to drown those who try.
Killing Zone, the last one hundred meters
The deadliest part of an assault on a position, fortified or not, is the last one hundred meter. That is where hand and eye coordination of a weapon of sufficient accuracy or volume makes it a killing zone. Crew served weapons of those days could put deadly fire out to three to five hundred meters away.
The coordination of interlocking grazing and plunging fires is built into the walls of the fortification to make sure that multiple weapons cover the same square foot in front of, on top of, and behind the walls. We call this a beaten zone.
Grazing fires occur at relatively shorter ranges and are used to sweep corridors, the face of the walls and towers, which fires plunge into the upright walls and turrets against those scaling the walls.
Taking advantage of the natural slopes for the construction of walls and towers, we can use the Handy approach:
The actual selection of site is favored by clear fields of fire and observation down the slopes of the high ground and of the fortifications themselves.
In the diagram above, the choices of the fortress engineer is to make sure there is no dead space for besiegers to take cover behind. The engineer typically will move the walls and towers of the fort at locations C forward until the dead space is observable.
In this case of Chateau Gaillard, the towers have been placed to provide maximum fires whose plunge grazes the slopes to places even in defilade. Stonewall Jackson, Confederate General at First Bull Run positioned his riflemen on Henry House Hill to have the same effect; his troops were in defilade position from chest down, but their bullets hit Union troops out of line of sight.
In these cases, the fortifications are built on high ground which not only affords better observation and fields of fire, it makes it difficult to attack the walls and towers of the fortification itself by denying access to the base of the works.
In addition to having plunging fires that graze through the ranks of those who dare to climb, fires are placed to provide mutual support to adjacent walls, towers, and gates. When walking through a fortification, look for how many arrow slits and other interesting openings can fire upon you. It’s rare not to find at least three.
These placements on the Great Wall are within mutual arrow distance apart and have a 360 field of observation and fires on both sides of the ridge line upon which most of the Great Wall was built.
The distance between towers is based on risk assessment in view of the maximum effective range of the missile weapons at hand. The maximum effective range today is measured by the distance a standing person can be hit. In those days, most missiles, arrows, rocks, and boiling oil were addressed “to whom it may concern” and given that battle formations were shoulder to shoulder, or at least arm’s length, it concerned a great many. One hundred yards was close combat with indirect and supporting fires from as far as five hundred meters for the really big stuff. Three hundred yards is “in range”.
cross fire.In the case of Carcassonne you see defense in depth, with a wall with no protection on it’s back side, in case the enemy took the first set of walls, they would be in a deadly cross fires.
The art and science of fortifications in the following gunpowder days as was the art of sieges highly sophisticated as the range and lethality of cannon grew. Some of the features found in Templar days continued well into the age of Exploration as in the case of the Fortress San Juan de Ullua in Vera Cruz, Mexico where arrow slits coexisted with cannon ports.
Firearms also modified the basic structure of fortifications from > to < looking to the right. Archers normally fired through an arrow slit narrow on the outside for protection. Firearms because of their weight and discharge of smelly smoke had to be outside the walls and fired from a widening aperture to allow swiveling the guns. Some forts had their arrow slits widened for guns, which later became windows. If it looks like a window, it wasn’t built that way.
The defense of a piece of dirt fortified or not, is directed at multiplying the protection and firepower of the defense and minimizing that of the attacker.It is the manifestation of the adage that when faced with superior forces, Passive: Dig In, Spread Out, and Hide Active: Duck, Dodge and Run
It means that the mobility of the enemy to maneuver is restricted to move to kill zones by barbed wire, sharp stakes, moats, and obstacles to present the attacker’s weakness to defensive fires.
Expose the Attacker's Right
In ancient days, this meant that the approach to a castle or part thereof, the defender forces the attacker to attack with his right side exposed which absent the shield on the left , left the body open to fires by bolt or arrow. Thus the stairwells in a fortification force the enemy to move clockwise up the up stairwell and down the down stairwell, which constricts his sword arm.It also messes with guns, bows, and cross bows for the same reason.
The placement of walls is best when placed close to the military crest of a convex slope which moves the wall placement forward onto ridges (fingers-high ground), or in concave slopes the military crest is farther back as the valley low ground approach to the line of knuckles. Collectively this places those on a convex slope to face grazing fires while those in the low ground approach face plunging fires from multiple directions.
The purpose of moats and minefields is to hold the attacker in position to be destroyed by fire and/or maneuver as well as keeping the attacker away from the walls (or foxholes).An obstacle not covered by fire and/or maneuver is a waste or resources.In ancient times, the function of barbed wire was taken by sharp stakes pointed in the direction of the attacker’s advance.This still works.
Once an attacker is positioned right and in a kill zone, the plan of fires is based on redundancy of fires from different directions: front, top, sides and rear.When studying a fortification, look for the alternate places fires would come from to any one place.This is the study of walls and towers and their fields of fire.
The tops of walls in your average Hollywood/Bollywood costumer film shows the crenellated walls with hordes of archers, and hurling of rocks and fire at those below.This did happen, particularly with fortifications allows to mellow with time, for the stones of ancient fortifications no longer have the wooden structures used to enhance overhead and flanking fires on the attacker.
When touring Europe from the hatch of my M113, or from my Austin Healy 3000 a lifetime ago, I noticed a line of pigeon holes about two meters apart and about two meters down from the top of the walls.It turned out that those holes were where the defender anchored his wooden structures called “hoarding” having nothing to do with storing.Hoardings were used to extend the defensive structure so that objects could be dropped directly through the floor onto people operating against the base of the walls. In addition, the hoardings had protected firing positions firing bolts or arrows through what were called “loops”.There were archer’s loops, and crossbowman’s loops; archer loops were vertical, crossbowmen loops were horizontal.
Normally any loop cut into wood or stone had a narrow opening on the outside to reduce the odds of an arrow or bolt hitting the archer/crossbowman.The inside was wider to allow the archer to move left and right for a better shot.Guns made too much noise and smoke so any gun ports have the wide side outside, narrow inside.The Fort San Juan de Ulloa at Vera Cruz Mexico shows both.
Hoarding became so critical to place fires onto the base of the fort that they were eventually made of stone and called “machicolations” of which there were varieties. The Archer’s Loops were cut into the upright stone of the top of the walls, called “merlons”. And gradually the wooden outworks became scare, to be rebuilt for study today.
In places like gates, holes were cut into the overheads, or ceilings called “Murder Holes” that added to the misery of anyone who got to the front door.
The narrowness of the loops of ancient/medieval defenses suggests that sniper fire was alive and shooting during sieges. Moving about a fortification or the besiegers positions in range of a bow was a hazardous proposition.Richard the Lion Heart was a sniper’s victim.In the Japanese film ”Kagemusha” about how Takeda Shingen, Lord of Kai, was shot by a sniper in 1573, lured by his love of music to his favorite spot.
In addition to sniper fire there was harassing and interdiction fires (H&I) as a constant activity on both sides to keep both sides alert. In Vietnam my first week in the field, my position was next to a section of 4.2” mortars firing H&I fires all night. Imagine now the constant working of siege engines day and night creaking and groaning with an accompanying thud or crash of a big rock into something or someone.
Towers were principally a way to provide flanking fires across the face of the walls also called “curtains”and also as a reinforcement in places most likely to be attacked. Towers were the principal component of gates. So as to make passage a pain.
Towers or turrets in ancient times were usually square, a practice that continues.This created a point of attack at the corners which could be struck from two or three directions. But upon exposure to Eastern Technology of the time of the Order, round towers were found to be harder to knock down, and were easier and less expensive to build.
Towers were often designed to stand alone if the walls were breached, and others had an open backside in case the tower was taken so that positions in the rear could fire on those who took the tower. Defense in depth!
Access routes to firing positions on walls and towers were often tightly controlled to minimize the vulnerability of the whole structure being taken from one level up or down.Often the top level was accessible only from a stairwell going up from ground floor. These stairwells, designed for the defender to force the attacker to attack clockwise down with sword arm constrained.
The fortification of cities (cookie jar behind) typically had less depth than fortifications for the purpose of protecting a military resource in which the cookie jar is in the fort or in front of a fortification in over-watch position like most Templar fortifications were.In these cases, there were normally a defense in depth with successive works which often were the most deadly.This is the tall tower so prominent in fact and fiction.
In the cases where the cookie jar is inside the walls as with the seats of power, a person, treasure, or object the fortifications are placed where most of the approaches are unapproachable usually somthing deep or steep. This is the castle at La Latte in Brittany built in the 12th Century and is the location used to film "The Vikings" 1958. MGM with Kirk Douglas, Janet Leigh, Tony Curtis and Ernest Borgnine. The film is an excellent presentation of an attack of a fortified position.
The defenses are arrayed in depth with outer works to defend the gates, fortified gates, inner courts and the castle "keep", donjon, or citadel which is the last line of defense.
There are a few objects de guerre on the walls not used for firepower, but for waste disposal both garbage and the other stuff.The latter were called “garderobes” of the pre-flush days depending on gravity without updraft.These look just like machicolations or hoarding except the firing port is a bit larger.
Combat Service Support (logistics)
Other features provided essential logistics support in the way of water, food, fodder, fuel, ammo and spare parts.
A key to survival first depends on water. As such catch basins for rain water and large cisterns dug to maintain a water supply.An essential part of defense was an adequate food supply at hand to sustain months of siege.Extra weapons, arrows and a maintenance facility for ordnance repair made for a more successful defense.
Given the impressive array of defense measures, it was not uncommon for a defense against odds of one hundred to one to be successful. The expense of sieges by an attacker was part of the grand strategy of fortifications.
It forced a serious attacker to muster massive resources to take the place.It also detracted from the attacker’s forces needed to face threats or challenges away from the fortification. Thus any attacker had to face a counter attack from inside as well as a attack by relieving forces coming to rescue those in the castle.The timing of these maneuvers was critical.Sometimes, the attacker had to build two lines of fortifications himself. One to keep the defenders inside, and the other to keep the relief force outside.These were called circumvallation and contravallation with contra being against the relieving force. The gold standard of this sort of siege was set by Ceasar