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Old 03-06-2020, 07:51 AM   #1
Huinesoron
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A military historian on the Siege of Gondor

About a year ago, Bret Devereaux, a historian at UNC, wrote a six-part analysis of the movieverse's Siege of Gondor/Minas Tirith from the perspective of military history. He devotes a fair amount of space to comparing the movie's version to the book, as well, to the universal detriment of the movie (surprise - not).

The analysis starts here, with links to the six parts at the top of the post.

There's some interesting stuff in there! He spends a chunk of time discussing the morale effects of the Witch-King's siege, and highlights just how well Tolkien used his own WWI experiences to write them (in contrast to the movie, the morale battle in the book entirely clears out the gateway for the Witch-King's entry - except for Gandalf). There's also loads of stuff about catapults, and how to capture Osgiliath (Jackson's orcs actually had a decent plan, though Faramovie's response left a lot to be desired), and right now I'm deep into cavalry tactics and why the movie should have ended with a whole lot of dead horses.

hS
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Old 03-07-2020, 10:43 PM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Huinesoron View Post
About a year ago, Bret Devereaux, a historian at UNC, wrote a six-part analysis of the movieverse's Siege of Gondor/Minas Tirith from the perspective of military history. He devotes a fair amount of space to comparing the movie's version to the book, as well, to the universal detriment of the movie (surprise - not).

The analysis starts here, with links to the six parts at the top of the post.

There's some interesting stuff in there! He spends a chunk of time discussing the morale effects of the Witch-King's siege, and highlights just how well Tolkien used his own WWI experiences to write them (in contrast to the movie, the morale battle in the book entirely clears out the gateway for the Witch-King's entry - except for Gandalf). There's also loads of stuff about catapults, and how to capture Osgiliath (Jackson's orcs actually had a decent plan, though Faramovie's response left a lot to be desired), and right now I'm deep into cavalry tactics and why the movie should have ended with a whole lot of dead horses.

hS
Thanks, I shall start digging in tomorrow.
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Old 03-08-2020, 05:46 AM   #3
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Very interesting, especially for the insights into pre-modern military science, something I don't know much about. I'm more up to speed with tactics/strategy/logistics in the Napoleonic and World Wars, and am very much a "Clausewitzian" in that regard. I've only scanned through the first couple so far but it's a subject I find quite curious.

I don't suppose anyone knows of any study of military matters specifically as they apply to the books and Professor Tolkien's own writing? I remember once seeing a book in the University of Sydney library called "Warfare in Fantasy Fiction" (or similar) which had nothing in it about Tolkien; he wasn't even mentioned in the index. It was bizarre.
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Old 03-08-2020, 01:20 PM   #4
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Excellent! Thank you!

Especially significant- and Clausewitzian - were his comments on the "morale battle," and why it is dispositive in warfare*- something that Tolkien knew, and PJ evidently did not.

*Short version- you don't win a battle by killing the enemy, but by making them run away. Killing some is just a means of getting the rest to run.
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Old 03-14-2020, 06:47 PM   #5
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Thank you for sharing this! I was finally able to give this a read, and really enjoyed it. As someone who knows remarkably little of warfare tactics of any age, this wqs both interesting and educational. But I also find that the differences the author highlights - a battle of morale vs a battle of weapons - reflects on my perspective and emotional involvement in the struggle as an audience. Audiences are not emotionally attached to weapons, but we do feel for the characters through their moments of rollercoaster hope and dread. And the army of the dead - don't get me started on this one, it doesn't take a military historian to call cowdung on that stunt. So, thank you Huey! I will go on to read the GOT pages now, see how he (deservedly) bashes the hyped up Winterfel battle sequence.
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Old 08-05-2020, 07:47 PM   #6
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Glad I stumbled upon this thread Huey. Thanks for sharing! I'll try to read his Helm's Deep analysis at a later date.

I wanted to bring up one minor quibble and that is with Mr. Devereaux's estimate for the size of Mordor's siege force.

The movies I think he has it correct, I recall headlines/promos for the battle stating 200,000-250,000 size. An army that size as he explains for the movies was unrealistic.

His estimate (granted he's right that Tolkien didn't pin down exact numbers and so was using wikipedia as a reference) of half the size of the movies is I believe too high.

In Karyn Wynn Fonstad's The Atlas of Middle-earth she gives reasonable estimates based on some of the force sizes Tolkien does give.

I'll start with the Battle of Morannon since it will make her reasoning for these estimates clearer.

So Aragorn marches out from Minas Tirith with 7,000 (1,000 horses, 6,000 infantry). 1,000 of them get cold feet and don't make it to the Black Gate. So Aragorn arrives with a force of 6,000. After the Mouth's message it's said:

Quote:
The men of the West were trapped, and soon, all about the grey mounds where they stood, forces ten times and more than ten times their match would ring them in a sea of enemies.~The Black Gate Opens
This places Mordor's force at 70,000. 'and more than ten times their match' references that only 6,000 of the original 7,000 Aragorn marched out with reached the Black Gate.

It is unlikely the force at Pelennor fields was larger than this, because Sauron's mistake was he rushed the siege before his full plans were made and before his full strength gathered. Aragorn reveals the reforged sword and his identity to Sauron via the palantir of Orthanc, and this causes Sauron to rush his plans to attack Minas Tirith.

We do have some ideas of the size of the force (Fonstad settles on the conservative minimum estimate of 45,000 - roughly 4 times the estimated size for the forces of Gondor, Rohan and Aragorn's Grey company).

At the start Faramir comments that 'we may make the Enemy pay ten times our loss at the passage and yet rue the exchange.' And Faramir's force was 'ten times outnumbered at the Causeway forts. (The Siege of Gondor)

We are told the size of the Haradrim force (18,000) for the Rohirrim 'at their onset were thrice outnumbered by the Haradrim alone' (Battle of Pelennor Fields). Theoden remarked during their mustering at Dunharrow, they gathered 6,000 spears and that was 'less than half' what he hoped for.

So far, 6,000 for the forces of Gondor. 18,000 for Mordor.

Gondor:

6,000 Rohirrim

We don't have all the precise estimates of the fiefdoms forces that came to Minas Tirith, but after they all arrived 'And that was all, less than three thousands full told.' (Minas Tirith) Fonstad estimated the total forces from Gondor's fiefdoms 2,800.

The Tower of the Guard had at least 3 companies (Beregond was in the 3rd company) plus an 'out-garrison'. I believe a modern company consists of something like 80-200 troops. I can't quite remember the reasoning, but Fonstad seems to estimate that a 'company' in Lord of the Rings totals 400-500 troops each. With this she estimated the Tower Guard having no more than 2,000 troops.

Add in Aragorn's Grey Company of 30. Plus he comes with a force from the fiefdoms that were held back in defense of the arriving Corsairs. She estimates this to be 1,000 based on:

Quote:
But when the men of Lossarnach had passed they muttered: 'So few! Two hundreds, what are they? We hoped for ten times the number. That will be new tidings of the black fleet. They are sparing only a tithe of their strength.'~Minas Tirith
So all in total, Gondor and their allies seem to have mustered 11,000-12,000.

Mordor:

18,000 Haradrim.

Frodo witnesses the Minas Morgul host leaving and the narrator remarks it was the 'so great an army had never issued from that vale since the days of Isildur's might...and yet it was but one and not the greatest of the hosts that Mordor now sent forth.' (The Stairs of Cirith Ungol).

She estimates this host at 20,000 based on the causeway forts being outnumber 10 to 1 and Faramir's comments about making the enemy "pay ten times our loss."

So that makes 38,000.

I think her weakest case is the forces from Khand and Rhun which she settled on the conservative estimate that Mordor's force at the Pelennor fields was 4 times that of Gondor's. So she applies a minimum estimate of 45,000 leaving Khand and Rhun forces to make up the remaining 7,000.

Personally, with how often the overwhelming odds and vast size of Mordor's force is described, I think 45,000 is too low (but Fonstad admits that's the minimum amount), but I don't think it would have been over the 70,000 that issued out the Black Gate. Because as mentioned, Sauron actually made a mistake of besieging Minas Tirith before his full plans were made due to Aragorn's reveal. So I favor the higher end of 60-65,000.

I hope this was helpful. I really enjoyed reading his analysis, excellent stuff. And can't wait to get time to read his Helm's Deep analysis.
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Old 08-07-2020, 11:09 AM   #7
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I'm rather late to this discussion.

I am so late that Boro made the point I was going to make. Although I think Fonstad's numbers are more on the money than Boro does. I've come to think lately that there is a bit of a trap not only in inflating the Mordorian numbers but also a trap in potentially deflating the Gondorian numbers too much.

I will add, however, that in spite of Mr. Devereaux seeming to feel that he could justly be accused of being too hard on the movies, I think he is not hard enough on them by half.

But I am a known opponent of the films.
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Old 08-07-2020, 11:22 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Boromir88 View Post
Glad I stumbled upon this thread Huey. Thanks for sharing! I'll try to read his Helm's Deep analysis at a later date.

I wanted to bring up one minor quibble and that is with Mr. Devereaux's estimate for the size of Mordor's siege force.

The movies I think he has it correct, I recall headlines/promos for the battle stating 200,000-250,000 size. An army that size as he explains for the movies was unrealistic.

His estimate (granted he's right that Tolkien didn't pin down exact numbers and so was using wikipedia as a reference) of half the size of the movies is I believe too high.

In Karyn Wynn Fonstad's The Atlas of Middle-earth she gives reasonable estimates based on some of the force sizes Tolkien does give.

I'll start with the Battle of Morannon since it will make her reasoning for these estimates clearer.

So Aragorn marches out from Minas Tirith with 7,000 (1,000 horses, 6,000 infantry). 1,000 of them get cold feet and don't make it to the Black Gate. So Aragorn arrives with a force of 6,000. After the Mouth's message it's said:



This places Mordor's force at 70,000. 'and more than ten times their match' references that only 6,000 of the original 7,000 Aragorn marched out with reached the Black Gate.

It is unlikely the force at Pelennor fields was larger than this, because Sauron's mistake was he rushed the siege before his full plans were made and before his full strength gathered. Aragorn reveals the reforged sword and his identity to Sauron via the palantir of Orthanc, and this causes Sauron to rush his plans to attack Minas Tirith.

We do have some ideas of the size of the force (Fonstad settles on the conservative minimum estimate of 45,000 - roughly 4 times the estimated size for the forces of Gondor, Rohan and Aragorn's Grey company).

At the start Faramir comments that 'we may make the Enemy pay ten times our loss at the passage and yet rue the exchange.' And Faramir's force was 'ten times outnumbered at the Causeway forts. (The Siege of Gondor)

We are told the size of the Haradrim force (18,000) for the Rohirrim 'at their onset were thrice outnumbered by the Haradrim alone' (Battle of Pelennor Fields). Theoden remarked during their mustering at Dunharrow, they gathered 6,000 spears and that was 'less than half' what he hoped for.

So far, 6,000 for the forces of Gondor. 18,000 for Mordor.

Gondor:

6,000 Rohirrim

We don't have all the precise estimates of the fiefdoms forces that came to Minas Tirith, but after they all arrived 'And that was all, less than three thousands full told.' (Minas Tirith) Fonstad estimated the total forces from Gondor's fiefdoms 2,800.

The Tower of the Guard had at least 3 companies (Beregond was in the 3rd company) plus an 'out-garrison'. I believe a modern company consists of something like 80-200 troops. I can't quite remember the reasoning, but Fonstad seems to estimate that a 'company' in Lord of the Rings totals 400-500 troops each. With this she estimated the Tower Guard having no more than 2,000 troops.

Add in Aragorn's Grey Company of 30. Plus he comes with a force from the fiefdoms that were held back in defense of the arriving Corsairs. She estimates this to be 1,000 based on:



So all in total, Gondor and their allies seem to have mustered 11,000-12,000.

Mordor:

18,000 Haradrim.

Frodo witnesses the Minas Morgul host leaving and the narrator remarks it was the 'so great an army had never issued from that vale since the days of Isildur's might...and yet it was but one and not the greatest of the hosts that Mordor now sent forth.' (The Stairs of Cirith Ungol).

She estimates this host at 20,000 based on the causeway forts being outnumber 10 to 1 and Faramir's comments about making the enemy "pay ten times our loss."

So that makes 38,000.

I think her weakest case is the forces from Khand and Rhun which she settled on the conservative estimate that Mordor's force at the Pelennor fields was 4 times that of Gondor's. So she applies a minimum estimate of 45,000 leaving Khand and Rhun forces to make up the remaining 7,000.

Personally, with how often the overwhelming odds and vast size of Mordor's force is described, I think 45,000 is too low (but Fonstad admits that's the minimum amount), but I don't think it would have been over the 70,000 that issued out the Black Gate. Because as mentioned, Sauron actually made a mistake of besieging Minas Tirith before his full plans were made due to Aragorn's reveal. So I favor the higher end of 60-65,000.

I hope this was helpful. I really enjoyed reading his analysis, excellent stuff. And can't wait to get time to read his Helm's Deep analysis.

However, Devereaux makes two salient points, both relating to the fact that an army can be TOO big. 1) after you have completely invested the besieged fortress, any additional troops (not counting the logistics and support train) are supernumerary, and 2) it takes a LOT of food to support and army - and bringing the food means wagons, which means draft animals, which means fodder for the animals......

And given that the W-K is wholly dependent on in effect a single road (Black Gaqte- Ithilien-Osgiliath - the black Gate -Cair Andros route being untenable for serious supply - I would cap the effective force at around 28,000, which was about as large as pre-industrial armies could commit to a single road. (It was for this reason that Napoleon's corps d'armee were set at around that size; they would march by parallel routes and concentrate for battle).
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Old 08-07-2020, 01:09 PM   #9
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1) after you have completely invested the besieged fortress, any additional troops (not counting the logistics and support train) are supernumerary
Unless an immediate assault is intended.
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Old 08-07-2020, 04:04 PM   #10
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Unless an immediate assault is intended.
Yes. The plan was not to lay siege to Minas Tirith to starve it out, the plan was to conquer by fear and fire and dark magic within a few days and more onward to presumably secure the lands beyond - Gondor, Rohan, who knows how far west and north from there. Also, if the siege is taking too long, they might leave a sufficient force to guard the city while the bulk of the army might just move onward to subdue the small forces scattered around Gondor or reinforce the roads to allies, like they have with the Rohirrim, or do whatever other goal Sauron might have had. The invasion wasn't supposed to stop at conquering Minas Tirith.
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