Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

My biographical novel of Balian d'Ibelin in three parts is complete, but the saga continues. Follow me to Cyprus, where Lusignans and Ibelins struggle to put down a rebellion and establish a durable state. Watch for excerpts and updates here.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Reflections on the Battle of Britain

  • There are few events in British History that are as dramatic or as inspiring as the Battle of Britain. Indeed, Winston Churchill suggested in his famous speech that the Battle of Britain was the British Empire’s “finest hour.” 

  • Pilots “Scramble” very early in the Battle. Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

    From the point of view of a historian, the Battle of Britain was significant because it brought Hitler’s aggression to a halt for the first time after he came to power in Germany in 1933.  Admittedly, Hitler considered his failure to defeat the Royal Air Force in the summer of 1940 an annoyance rather than a major strategic set-back; his real objective was the Soviet Union, and to this day most Germans have never even heard of the Battle of Britain!  Yet for Britain, the United States, and occupied Europe, the significance of the Battle of Britain can hardly be over-stated.  

    If the RAF had been defeated in 1940, the Luftwaffe would have been able to continue indiscriminate day-light bombing almost indefinitely, and paved the way for a German invasion of Britain. Although many doubt this would have been successful, there is no certainty that it would have been repulsed either.  The Royal Navy had been seriously weakened by the losses during the evacuation at Dunkirk and was over-stretched trying to protect the Atlantic lifeline.  Furthermore, the Royal Army was had been mauled in France and the British Expeditionary Force had abandoned all its heavy equipment in France. In consequence, the British ground forces lacked tanks and artillery for fighting the heavily mechanized Wehrmacht. Churchill was not only being rhetorical when he spoke about fighting a guerrilla war against the invaders!

    But the invasion did not take place because the Royal Air Force, or more specifically Fighter Command, prevented the Luftwaffe from establishing air superiority over England. Without air superiority, the Wehrmacht was not prepared to invade. So Hitler (more interested in invading the Soviet Union anyway) first postponed and then cancelled the invasion of Britain altogether.

    This was more than a military victory. The Battle of Britain was a critical diplomatic and psychological victory as well. The psychological impact of defeating the apparently invincible Luftwaffe was enormous at the time. The RAF had proved that the Luftwaffe could be beaten, and by inference that the Wehrmacht could be beaten. This fact alone encouraged resistance and kept hope alive all across occupied Europe.

    Even more important, as a result of British tenacity and defiance in the Battle of Britain, the United States, which at the start of the Battle had written Britain off as a military and political power, revised its opinion of British strength.  Because of the Battle of Britain, the U.S.A. shifted its policy from ‘neutrality’ to ‘non-belligerent’ assistance. With American help, Britain was able to keep fighting until Hitler over-extended himself in the Soviet Union. This in turn made it possible to forge the wartime coalition of Britain, the U.S. and the Soviet Union, which would eventually, defeat Hitler’s Germany.


    Yet, any such purely objective assessment of the Battle of Britain does not explain the appeal of the Battle of Britain to people today.  There were, after all, many other decisive battles in WWII from Stalingrad to Midway. The appeal of the Battle of Britain is less military and diplomatic than emotional. 

    The Battle of Britain was a drama that has captured the imagination – and hearts – of all subsequent generations because of just how much hung in the balance and of just how little stood between Britain and a Nazi invasion. The Wehrmacht had just defeated the French in six weeks! The British Expeditionary Force had been rescued by the skin of their teeth in a dramatic, improvised evacuation – but only at the cost of abandoning all its equipment on the beaches of France. Thus, in the Summer of 1940, it seemed like only RAF Fighter Command stood between Britain and invasion, between freedom and subjugation.

    Yet RAF Fighter Command was tiny!  Even including the foreign pilots flying with the RAF, there were only roughly 1,200 trained fighter pilots in Britain at this time. (Numbers varied due to training, casualties and recruiting.) These men were a highly trained elite that could not be readily replaced. Pilots were not mere “cannon fodder.”  They were specialists that took years to train. In the summer of 1940, they stood against apparently overwhelming odds. Churchill – as so often – captured the sentiment of his countrymen when he claimed that “never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.”


    This image of a small “band of brothers” standing up to a massive and invincible foe in a defensive battle for their homeland was reminiscent of other heroic battles – Henry V at Agincourt, Edward the Black Prince at Poitiers, Leonidas and his 300 at Thermopylae.  Such battles, pitting  a few defenders against a hoard of enemy, have always appealed to students of history and readers of historical fiction like almost nothing else.

    Furthermore, it must be remembered that pilots were very, very young (averaging 22 years in age), and they were they were fighting with beautiful, fragile machines that still awed most of their contemporaries. Furthermore, the casualties were devastating. In the short, four month span of the Battle, Fighter Command lost roughly 40% of its pilots.  That means that each pilot had only a slightly better than 50% chance of surviving the Battle.  Furthermore, the effective casualty rate of killed and wounded was closer to 70%.  This situation was aggravated by the fact that, as a rule, the more experienced pilots had a 5-6 times greater chance of surviving than did the replacement pilots coming into the front line with very little flying and no combat experience.  The most critical period for a replacement pilot was his first fortnight in a front-line squadron.  Many pilots did not survive four hours.  




    This meant that a smallish core of experienced pilots watched waves of replacements arriving and then being shot-down in a short space of time, until sheer exhaustion wore down even the most experienced pilots. By the end of the Battle, Squadron Leaders, Flight Lieutenants and Section Leaders were increasingly getting shot down as a result of mistakes, inattention, and ‘sloppy flying’  that resulted simply from fatigue.

    These are the “human interest” stories that so fascinate us today – the inexperienced teenagers with less than 20 hours on combat aircraft being thrown into the bloody fray, and their experienced commanders, the “killers” who had to shoot down enough German aircraft to convince Goering and Hitler that the Battle could not be won, while at the same time leading, encouraging and advising their young colleagues so they could live to fight another day. 

    How did they do it?

    Obviously one factor was sheer motivation. British pilots were fighting over their homes – and their historical and national heritage – acutely aware of being the last line of defense in a war against a widely abhorred enemy. But this alone would hardly have given them victory. The Poles and Danes and French etc. had also been fighting for their homes and country against the same aggressor.

    Technology and organization were other critical factors and these have been analyzed and discussed in great detail in many good history books. I will only mention here radar, without which Britain would certainly have lost the Battle of Britain, and the system of ground control over dispersed fighter squadrons, which was equally important to Britain’s victory in 1940.  The Spitfire deserves at least an honorable mention since it was such a magnificent fighter, even if honesty compels me to note that in the Battle of Britain more squadrons were equipped with and more German aircrafts shot down by Hurricanes.


                                                                                                                              But I would like to draw attention to one aspect of the Battle that I believe has often been overlooked in favor of the above explanations for success. This was the very strong “team spirit” that predominated in the RAF –in sharp contrast to the Luftwaffe at this time.  The Luftwaffe enabled and encouraged individual fighter pilots to become “aces.” If a German pilot was an “ace,” he was not only lionized by the press and praised by his peers and superiors -- all the way to Hitler himself, but he was given a wingman and then an entire “Schwarm” to protect him so he could concentrate on killing. This way, German aces accumulated huge scores, sometimes over 100 attributed “kills,” while the highest scoring ace of the RAF, “Johnnie” Johnson, had only 38 recorded “kills.”

    Yet the RAF with its ethos of acting as a team inflicted losses on the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain at a rate of almost 2 to 1. Furthermore – and far more important - morale did not break.  Given the losses and the sheer physical demands placed upon RAF pilots at the time, it was their ability not only to keep flying but to keep drinking and laughing that awed their countrymen, their leaders and their enemies – when they found out.  

    B” Flight, 85 Squadron, July 1940. Courtesy of WAAF Edith Kupp

    Furthermore, it was not the pilots alone who won the Battle of Britain.  The RAF had worked hard to ensure that its pilots were supported by some of the best trained ground crews in the world.  With an ‘apprentice’ program, the RAF had attracted technically minded young men early and provided them with extensive training throughout the inter-war years. In fact, because of a unique program that enabled exceptional “other ranks” to qualify for flying training, many pilots flying in the Battle of Britain had come up from the ranks, starting as mechanics themselves. This made the pilots appreciate their ground crews more than pilots did in other air forces of the time.


    Perhaps most important, however, was that at this stage of the war, individual crews looked after individual aircraft and so specific pilots.  The ground crews identified strongly with their unit – and ‘their’ pilots. After the bombing of the airfields started in mid-August, the ground crews were themselves under attack, suffering casualties and working under deplorable conditions – often without hot-food, dry beds, adequate sleep and no leave.  The ground crews never failed their squadrons.  Aircraft were turned around – rearmed, re-fuelled, tires, oxygen, airframe etc. checked – in just minutes.  

    Last but not least, I would like to note that the RAF from the very start had an exceptionally positive attitude toward women.  The RAF actively encouraged the establishment of a Women’s Auxiliary, which by the end of the war served alongside the RAF in virtually all non-combat functions.  Even before the start of the war, however, the vital and highly technical jobs of radar operator and operations room plotter, as well as various jobs associated with these activities, were identified as trades especially suited to women.  The C-in-C of Fighter Commander, ACM Dowding, personally insisted that the talented women who did these jobs move up into supervisory positions – and be commissioned accordingly. During Battle of Britain over 17,000 WAAF served with the RAF, nearly 4,500 of them with Fighter Command. A number of WAAF were killed and injured and six airwomen were awarded the Military Medal during the Battle.  The presence of so many young women is another factor that contributes to its modern appeal.                                                                                                 

    WAAF in Fighter Command Control Room. Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

    My novel on the Battle of Britain, Chasing the Wind (Kindle edition: Where Eagles Never Flew), pays tribute to the entire spectrum of participants, male and female, from mechanics and controllers to WAAFs as well as to the pilots. I based my account on the very meticulous records now available from both the UK and Germany to ensure that the raids, casualties, and claims each day are correct. Yet the most important research was reading the memoirs of dozens of participants and corresponding with others to try to get the atmosphere “right.” My greatest moment as a historical novelist came when I received a hand-written letter from a man I had only read about up until then: RAF Battle of Britain “ace” Bob Doe. Wing Commander Doe wrote to tell me I had “got it smack on the way it was for us fighter pilots,” and said that Chasing the Wind was “the best book” he had ever read about the Battle of Britain.  It doesn’t get any better than that for a historical novelist!
     
    Here’s a video teaser about the novel. Click here!

    (Note the Kindle Edition was published under the title Where Eagles Never Flew.) Buy here!











    Friday, July 25, 2014

    Knight of Jerusalem -- Search for the Cover

    My current project is a biographical novel of Balian d'Ibelin in three parts. The first book in the trilogy will be released this fall under the title: Knight of Jerusalem. The publisher has provided three mock-up covers. Please tell me which you like best by taking part in the poll.

    The cover text below will tell you a little more about the content of the book -- and I'll provide more information about it as the publication date gets closer.

    Balian, the landless son of a local baron, goes to Jerusalem to seek his fortune. Instead he finds himself trapped into serving a young prince suffering from leprosy. He appears condemned to obscurity and an early death — until the king dies unexpectedly making the leper boy King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem.



    The Byzantine princess Maria Comnena was just 13 years old when she arrived in the Kingdom of Jerusalem to cement the alliance between Latin Jerusalem and Greek Constantinople.  Despite her excellent education and intelligence, she is little more than a pretty doll in the eyes of her husband, a man almost three times her age.  Then suddenly the King is dead and at just 20 years of age Maria finds herself a wealthy widow with a vulnerable two-year-old daughter on her hands.




     Meanwhile, the charismatic Kurdish leader Saladin has united the forces of Islam and vowed to drive the Christians into the sea.  Only a united and vigorous defense can save the Christian kingdom, but not only is the king young, inexperienced and mortally ill, the barons are divided among themselves and the militant orders bitter rivals.  As the King tries to chart a course to salvage his Kingdom from certain obliteration, he leans increasingly upon his boyhood friend, Balian d’Ibelin.



    Friday, July 18, 2014

    A Tribute to Friedrich Olbricht and the "General's Plot" Against Hitler




    General Friedrich Olbricht was the first of literally thousands of Germans to fall victim to the National Socialist purge that followed the failed coup of 20 July 1944. It is fitting that he should die first, because -- with the exception of Generaloberst Ludwig Beck, who died almost simultaneously -- no other figure in the German Resistance to Hitler had been such a consistent and effective opponent of the regime.



    Olbricht was an opponent of Hitler from before he came to power. This was because on the one hand he recognized Hitler's demonic and dangerous character; and on the other hand he had been one of the few Reichswehr officers who served the Weimar Republic with conviction and sincere loyalty.  Because he did not view the Republic as a disgrace and long for some kind of national 'renewal,' he never allowed himself to believe that Hitler and his movement might be a positive force for the restoration of German honor and power.



    Furthermore, because Olbricht recognized the legitimacy of the Republic, he discerned the illegal nature of the Nazi regime from the very start.  Nor was he enchanted by Hitler's early successes.  Regardless of how much he may have welcomed an expansion of the Reichswehr, he saw the murders of June 30, 1934 as the barbaric acts of lawlessness that they were. He did not look the other way or rationalize what had been done.  As a result, his moral standards were not corrupted by rationalization of, much less complicity in, crimes. Because Olbricht's opposition and resistance were motivated by moral outrage at the policies and methods of the Nazis, his opinion of and attitude toward the Nazi regime never softened despite internal and international successes.


    By 1938, Olbricht's opposition to the increasingly dangerous and lawless Nazi regime had reached the point where he was prepared to consider a coup d'etat against the government. From 1940 onwards he belonged to the inner core of a conspiracy centered around Generaloberst Beck, which actively sought to bring down the Nazi regime. Starting in early 1942, he developed the clever tactic of using a legitimate General Staff plan, Valkyrie, as the basis for a coup against the government. By the end of 1942, according to Gestapo reports, he argued "with increasing urgency that the military must act regardless of how difficult the coup might be." After two failed assassination attempts in early 1943, he recruited Claus Graf Stauffenberg for the Resistance. On July 15 1944, he issued the Valkyrie orders two hours in advance of the first possible opportunity for the assassination.


    On 20 July 1944, Olbricht waited only for confirmation that an 'incident' had occurred before he set the coup in motion for a second time in the same week. Once the coup started, he was, according to all accounts, consistently energetic and forceful in trying to drive the coup forward to success. He did not call it off when Keitel denied Hitler was dead, and he arrested Fromm and others.  If one gives credence to the reports of eyewitness -- rather than the most-mortem commentary of historians -- at no time on 20 July did Olbricht hesitate or lose heart.



    As for Claus Graf Stauffenberg, all his burning desire to 'save Germany' would have served him little if his next assignment after his severe wounds in North Africa had landed him in any other of the almost infinite number of jobs available to a German army lieutenent colonel in the summer of 1943.  HIs energy and commitment would have brought no benefit to the German Reistance if he had found himself serving, say, on the staff of Military District XVII in Vienna, or -- as a former cavalry officer -- as coordinator of the supply remounts for ain increasingly horse-dependent Wehrmacht. But Olbricht chose Stauffenberg as his new Chief of Staf and so gave him the opportunity to become one of the leading figures in the German Resistance to Hitler.



    Olbricht and Stauffenberg worked together well. Stauffenberg brought fresh energy, fresh perspectives and new dynamism to the coup, but he did not replace Olbricht. Rather he complimented him.  While Olbricht was disciplined and mature, canny and experienced, Stauffenberg was passionate, flamboyant and creative. Olbricht and Stauffenberg saw themselves as a team, as comrads, working together towards the same goal. And no description of Olbricht and Stauffenberg would be complete without mentioning that htey liked working together.  One of the secretaries who worked in the small office between their respective offices reported: "When the two of them were together, you heard so much laughter, just laughter."



    It is Olbricht's tragedy that his pivotal role in the German Resistance to Hilter has been overshadowed by others and his contributions underestimated, demeaned or forgotten.  



    (The above is paraphrased from the concluding chapter of Codename Valkyrie: General Olbricht and the Plot against Hitler, by Helena P. Schrader, Haynes Publishing, 2009.


    Olbricht also plays a key supporting role in my novel about the German Resistance An Obsolele Honor 



    (Kindle edition: Hitler's Demons: A Novel of the German Resistance.)



    Friday, July 4, 2014

    The Battle of Hattin

    July 4 marks not only U.S. Independence Day but also the anniversary of 
    the Battle of Hattin, fought in 1187.



     The Battle of Hattin

    The devastating defeat of the combined Christian army at the Battle of Hattin on July 4, 1187, was one of the most significant disasters in medieval military history.  Christian casualties at the battle were so enormous, that the defense of the rest of the Kingdom of Jerusalem became impossible, and so the defeat at Hattin led directly to the loss of the entire kingdom including Jerusalem itself. The loss of the Holy City, led to the Third Crusade, and so to the death of the Holy Roman Emperor Friedrich I “Barbarossa”, and extended absence from his domains of Richard I “the Lionheart.” Both circumstances had a profound impact on the balance of power in Western Europe. Meanwhile the role of the critical of Pisan and Genoese fleets in supplying the only city left in Christian hands, Tyre, and in supporting Richard I’s land army resulted in trading privileges that led to the establishment of powerful trading centers in the Levant. These in turn fostered the exchange of goods and ideas that led historian Claude Reignier Condor to write at the end of the 19th Century that: “…the result of the Crusades was the Renaissance.” (The Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem 1099 to 1291 AD, The Committee of Palestine Exploration Fund, 1897, p. 163.)

    The importance of Hattin to contemporaries was not just the magnitude of the defeat, but the unexpectedness of it.  In retrospect, the victory seems inevitable. Muslim states had always surrounded the crusader kingdom (as they hem in Israel today) and the Muslim rulers could always been able to call on much larger military forces than their Christian opponents.  In the early years of Latin presence in the Holy Land, the divisions among the Muslim leaders, most especially the rivalry and hatred between Shiite Caliphate of Cairo and the Sunni Caliphate of Damascus, had played into Christian hands.  However, once Saladin had managed to unite Syria and Egypt under a single, charismatic leader the balance of power clearly tipped to the Muslims.

    This ignores the fact that Christian armies under Baldwin IV of Jerusalem and Richard I of England defeated Saladin on the battlefield more than once.  Saladin was a powerful, charismatic and clever commander, who knew how to deploy his forces effectively and use terrain to his advantage — but he was not invincible. Indeed, he was dealt a defeat every bit as devastating as Hattin in November 1177 at the Battle of Montgisard. His invading army was annihilated, and he himself had to flee on the back of a pack-camel. In July 1182, the Christian army under Baldwin IV stopped another full-scale invasion by Saladin, forcing him to withdraw across the Jordan with comparatively few Christian losses. In June the following year, 1183, the Christian army confronted yet another invasion on an even larger force and again forced Saladin to withdraw — this time without even engaging in an all-out battle.



    Despite these apparent successes, it was clear to the King of Jerusalem that Saladin was getting stronger with each new invasion attempt.  Saladin had increased his own power base from Cairo and Damascus to Aleppo, Homs and Mosul, while the Christians had no new infusions of blood, territory or income. In consequence, in 1184 Baldwin IV sent a frantic plea to the West, begging for a new crusade and offering the Western leader — whoever he might be — the keys to the kingdom. The lack of response reflected Western complacency about the threat to Jerusalem and implicit confidence in the ability of Baldwin and his barons to continue to defeat Saladin’s attempts to push the Christian kingdom into the sea.

    It was because of Baldwin’s earlier successes against Saladin, that the news of Hattin and the loss of Jerusalem shocked the West, allegedly causing the immediate death of Pope Urban III. How was it possible that a young and vigorous king, Guy I, could lead the same army to defeat that a youth suffering from leprosy (and only commanding his armies from a liter) had led to victory again and again?  

    Rarely in human history has a defeat been so wholly attributable to poor generalship on the losing side as at Hattin. To be sure, Saladin set a trap for the Christian armies. The bait was the citizens and garrison of Tiberius under the command of the Countess of Tripoli, who were besieged in the citadel after the fall of the city on July 2.  The Christian army was mustered at Sephorie, only some 15 miles to the west. The pleas for help from the Countess and Tiberius naturally evoked a response from the Christian army, most notably her four grown sons.  But the Count of Tripoli himself warned that it was a trap and opposed the decision to go to the aid of Tiberius. Tripoli’s reasoning convinced the majority of his peers and the council of war composed of the leading barons agreed to stay where they were and force Saladin to come to them. However, the Grand Master of the Temple went separately and secretly to King Guy after the council dispersed and convinced him to order the advance for the following day. In short, although warned, King Guy took the bait.

    To relieve Tiberius, the Christian army had to cross territory that was at this time of year devoid of fodder for the horses and where water sources were widely dispersed. With Saladin’s forces already occupying the springs at Cafarsset, on the southern route from Sephorie to Tiberias, the Christian had no choice but to follow the northern track, which led via the springs of Turan. Intense heat and harassment by the enemy slowed the Christian march to a crawl, and by noon on July 3, the Christian army had advanced only six miles to the springs of Turan.  With nine miles more to go, it was clear the army could not reach Tiberius before nightfall and prudence alone should have dictated a halt at Turan, where men and horse could rest and drink. Instead, King Guy against all reason ordered the advance to continue. Immediately, Saladin sent his troops to occupy Turan, thereby not-only blocking the Christian retreat but harassing the Christian rear-guard and further slowing the rate of advance.


    A depiction of the Christian army advancing toward Hattin carrying the “True Cross”
    from the film “The Kingdom of Heaven”

    When darkness fell on July 3, the Christian army was still six miles short of its objective and forced to camp in an open field completely surrounded by enemy forces.  The Christians had been marching and fighting for hours without water in the intense heat of a Palestinian summer. Men and horses were exhausted and further demoralized by the sound of Saracen drums surrounding them and the countless campfires advertising the enemy’s strength. 

    By morning, those fires were brush-fires intentionally set ablaze to windward of the Christian army in a maneuver that dried their already parched throats further while half-blinding them with smoke. Out of the smoke came volleys of arrows, and again “some of the Christian lords” urged King Guy to charge Saladin’s position at once, in an attempt to win the battle by killing the Sultan.  King Guy instead chose to try to march the entire army toward the springs of Hattin, still some three miles away and cut off by one wing of Saladin’s army.

    While the Christian cavalry tried to drive off the Saracen cavalry in a series of charges and counter-charges, the infantry stumbled forward until, half-blinded by smoke, constantly attacked by the enemy and near dying of thirst, the morale of the Christian infantry broke.  As casualties mounted, some of the infantry retreated up the slopes of the “horns” of Hattin, two steep hills that flanked the plane on which the army had camped and now marched and refused to fight any more. 

    Meanwhile, the Count of Tripoli with his knights and Lord Reginald of Sidon finally broke-through the surrounding enemy, charging east toward the Lake of Tiberius.  The Christian infantry that had not fled up the slopes tried to follow in the wake of the cavalry, but the Saracens under the command of one of Saladin’s nephews stepped aside to let the armored knights through and then closed ranks again, cutting off the Christian infantry that was cut down or taken captive.

    By now it was later afternoon, and with the infantry either already slaughtered or refusing to come down from the hilltop, King Guy ordered his knights to retreat up the slope as well. By now, many of the knights were fighting on foot because their horses became vulnerable once the infantry cover was withdraw.  It was probably at this stage in the battle that the relic, believed to be a piece of the cross on which Christ was crucified, was lost. The Bishop of Acre, who had been carrying it, was killed, and the effect on Christian morale of the loss of this most precious relic — believed to have brought victory in dozens of earlier battles was devastating.


    The final stages of the Battle of Hattin as depicted in the film “The Kingdom of Heaven”

    But still King Guy did not surrender.  What few knights were still mounted made one (or two) last desperate charge(s) to try to kill Saladin, who was mounted and clearly identifiable among his troops.  This charge was probably lead by Balian d’Ibelin. While the charge came close enough to Saladin for him to have to shout encouragement to his men, like Tripoli before him, once Ibelin was through the enemy, he had no chance of fighting his way back up-hill through the ever thickening ranks of the enemy closing in on their prey. Within minutes, King Guy’s last position was over-run and he along with most of his barons were taken prisoner.

    Of the roughly 20,000 Christian soldiers who had set out from Sephorie, only an estimated 3,000 infantry managed somehow to escape into the surrounding countryside and eventually take refuge in the castles and walled towns then still in Christian hands. Of the 1,200 knights and barons that mustered for the battle, only four barons, Tripoli, Sidon, Edessa and Ibelin, escaped capture along with maybe 100 - 200 knights. The remainder including the King of Jerusalem, the Masters of the Temple and Hospital, the Constable Aimery de Lusignan, the Lords of Oultrajourdain, Toron, Gibelet, and others — effectively the entire nobility of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. While the majority of these lords and knights were held for ransom, the 230 Templars and Hospitallers that survived the battle were executed at Saladin’s orders.


    Medieval painting of prisoners being led away (here by a Christian king)

    As a result of these losses, both killed and captured, the kingdom was effectively denuded of defenders. King Guy had issued the equivalent of the “levee en masse” of the Napoleonic era, the arriere ban, and every able-bodied fighting man had mustered at Sephorie. Left behind in the castles, towns and cities were women, children, the old and the ill. There were no garrisons capable of offering an effective resistance. Worse, even if there had been, there was no point to resistance since there was no army capable of coming to the relief of a city under siege. Thus when Saladin’s army appeared before the walls of one fortress or city after another, the citizens had the choice of surrender in exchange for their lives and such valuables as they could carry or hopeless resistance. Since the rules of contemporary warfare dictated that resistance justified massacre, rape and enslavement, it is hardly surprising that the Christian cities and castles capitulated one after another, starting with Nazareth, and the Acre on July 8, followed by Haifa, Caesarea, Arsuf, Jaffa, Ramla, Ibelin, Darum, Sidon, Beirut, Gibelet, Nablus, Beirut and Ascalon.


    By mid-September only isolated castles and two cities defied Saladin: Tyre which was particularly defensible and to which he barons of Tripoli and Sidon and the garrisons of the surrendered cities withdrew, and Jerusalem itself.  But the siege of Jerusalem is material for another post….