Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Against the odds (part 1)

After an argument with Onkar lately, who is of the opinion that Moshe Dayan had no part to play in the Six days war (crap), I decided to post about major epoch making battles in history, when great military strategists turned the tables on their enemies by a series of tactical maneuvers in the battlefield, changing the course of military campaigns. Although it is true that luck has indeed played its part in all these battles, I cannot help feeling that the goddess of fortune has justly smiled upon the brave. So what happens when you suddenly find yourself in an ambush, when your enemies aim at you from an elevated position, or you run out of resources with no time left to think, your just a thousand men too short to face your opponents, or perhaps if you have only one bullet left to kill three birds. It my be a Catch 22 situation, but its only in times like these that great heroes are born.

For convenience I will post all the battles in each individual post starting with this one.
Battle ONE
Battle of Alesia: 'Let them eat grass'

This battle paved way for Julius Caesar to become the most powerful man in the world. A feeble version of this is actually included in the first version of Age of Empires pc video game, although it doesn't in any manner recreate the actual battle(apart from the ring shaped double circumvallation).

Caesar had spent his life's worth for his campaign in Gaul (present day nation of France). But the Barbarians in Gaul were united under their leader Vercingetorix. Caesar had to go through great ordeals to reach their capital city of Alesia. On one occasion when his food supplies ran out he ordered his men to feed themselves with grass, eating grass himself for that purpose.

Vercingetorix, the Gaul leader

Julius Caesar... everyone knows who this guy is

But after reaching the city he realized he just had twenty thousand men to attack the capital. To add to his despair a force of over one lac Gauls was right behind him to rescue the city. He did the most unimaginable thing a military commander could do. He first built a circular wall around the capital city to lay a siege. And then he built a second circular wall around the first one to defend themselves from the Gaul force approaching them to get relief to their leader Vercingetorix who occupied the capital. The roman army of twenty thousand men sandwiched between more than one lac bloodthirsty Gauls, occupying a narrow ring shaped wooden wall formation, with limited food supplies, was the scenario then. The fortifications built by Caesar are termed as double circumvallation at Alesia.

The picture shows city of Alesia on the top of the hill along with double circumvallation built by Romans

The Gauls attacked the weakest and the narrowest region of the circumvallation from both inside as well as outside. Romans found it difficult to control the situation. Caesar was right at the center of the battlefield with his men. After some time the Gauls managed to bring down the fortification, and it seemed as if the city's army and the relief force from outside will meet together and combine themselves to wipe out the Romans.

At this instance Caesar knew he had to do something, or he would be facing oblivion. The trick he pulled out then is regarded as the most shrewd military maneuver ever. He sent a small contingent of Romans soldiers out of the battlefield into the forest. These soldiers made their way into the woods and changed their uniforms to brand new one, with gold plated armour. Then they rode back to the battle field with huge pomp.

The Gauls looking at the manner of their arrival, thought that a fresh army of Romans had arrived. (Actually an army was on its way for help to Caesar, and the Gauls knew of its coming, but it was quite far away yet). Remember that the Gaul army comprised of Barbarian and and poorly trained savage militia who were in highly uncouth formation with no proper ranks or order. Mistaking it for the Roman division, fear spread among the fighting savages and the Gauls army was scattered, and the relief force returned to the forest. Vercingetorix retreated back to the city with no choice left and the Romans were saved.

Caesar's fortification around Alesia

The next day Vercingetorix surrendered. He arrived on his horse in the Roman camp, and presented himself to Caesar alone, unarmed and begged him to show mercy towards the citizen of Alesia, and asked Caesar not to kill them, but take them as slaves and let them live. Earlier all roman generals like Pompey, Lucullus and Crassus would usually massacre all their prisoners inhumanly. But Caesar agreed to his terms and took all the Gauls at Alesia as slaves, and war was over following the surrender.

Vercingetorix (on the horse) when he surrendered to Caesar

Vercingetorix was taken to Rome as a slave, and Caesar's generosity to spare the lives of all the Gaul women and children made him popular among Romans and Barbarians alike. It was his campaign in Gaul that provided him a platform for his conquest. He later went on to Rome, Greece and later Egypt. I really don't need to write about the rest of his exploits with Pompey and Cleopatra.

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