“Third Crusade” 820th Anniversary Series: Christian Forces Win the Battle of Arsuf September 7, 2011Posted by rwf1954 in Arsuf, Battle of Arsuf, crusades, history, medieval period, Middle Ages, Richard the Lionheart, Saladin, the crusades, third crusade.
Tags: Arsuf, Battle of Arsuf, Crusades, medieval history, Middle Ages, Richard the Lionheart, Saladin, Third Crusade
(This post is the 36th of what will be approximately 70 posts following 820th anniversary highlights of what history now calls the “Third Crusade.” My novel, The Swords of Faith, tells the story of this legendary clash between Richard the Lionheart and Saladin.)
820 years ago today, the Battle of Arsuf, one of the most famous of the Crusades, and a key battle of the “Third Crusade,” took place. Richard the Lionheart prepared for the battle with the same organizational meticulousness that had characterized the march south during late August. His plan was simple—he wanted to level one overwhelming cavalry charge that would devastate Saladin’s lighter armored cavalry. He set bugle call signals for his men. Cavalry charges of western European knights, with huge armored horses carrying armored riders holding lances leveled at anyone in their paths, were feared by any potential enemy that had seen them in action. Richard proposed to time that charge at just the right time.
Saladin’s plan was to harass the western Christian forces with swirling hit-and-run attacks executed by his more mobile cavalry, mounted archers with less armor but with quickness as their advantage. Saladin wanted to provoke a disorganized response to the provocations so the knights could be isolated and overwhelmed by his quicker more numerous forces.
Saladin’s men put their plan into action. His men picked off enemy men and especially enemy horses at an alarming rate, especially in the rear where the Hospitallers fought off constant attacks. They longed to counterattack, to hurl that devastating charge against this gnat of an enemy. They sent repeated messages to Richard, begging him to order the charge. Richard held off—for him the time was not right yet. He wanted the enemy more concentrated, and more tired, before striking the decisive blow. But finally two Hospitaller knights could wait no longer. They broke formation and started after the enemy. The rear of Richard’s formation was moving, coming apart. Richard had wanted to wait a few moments more, but understood that a charge in pieces would not accomplish the devastating hammer blow he sought to win the day. He gave the order for the bugles to sound. He unleashed the charge and led it from the front.
In moments, the Battle of Arsuf transformed. The brief moments of the furious charge decided the battle. Saladin’s forces able to escape destruction retreated into the forest. Richard’s men then chased them to the edge the forest, but did not follow. Twice more, Richard’s knights charged at any resistance forming to contest their possession of the field. Twice more they stopped at the edge of the forest after destroying everything in their path. In past battles, western Christian knights had over-pursued after mounting a successful charge, breaking formation, then subject to swirling counterattacks that would surround and destroy isolated knights. Richard’s men, under his orders, were not going to make that mistake.
Saladin tried to rally his men for each counterattack. There were insufficient men available. They had either fled miles to the rear, or had been killed. Saladin would have to accept this defeat and take measures to resist the next phase of Richard’s operations. He would face important decisions, with Christian forces moving into position to move onJerusalem. He did not have the forces to counter every possible enemy move.
Richard’s forces would move uncontested into the port city of Jaffa, a position where Saladin had already destroyed fortifications. Richard would need to refortify the position, allow his army to recover from the battle, but more from the effects of the grueling August march south, and then set his next move, very possibly a move inland toward Jerusalem. While both Richard and Saladin took stock of their positions and seemed to catch their breaths, real negotiations began between the western Christians and Saladin, negotiations that would take some peculiar twists and turns.
Previous 820th Anniversary Posts:
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