Thursday, October 25, 2012

Oct. .25 & The Battles On St. Crispin's Day - Agincourt, The Charge Of The Light Brigade, & Leyete Gulf

October 25 is the ancient feast day for the martyred Saints, Crispin and Crispinian. It is also the day on which was fought three of the most memorable battles of history - the Battle of Agincourt, the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Battle of Balaklava, and the largest naval battle in history, the Battle of Leyte Gulf. It is a memorable and bloody day in all of its particulars.

Saints Crispin & Crispinian

The feast of Saints Crispin and his twin brother Crispinian falls this day. They were the sons of a Roman noble family born in third century France. They preached Christianity during the day and did leatherworking by night. They came to the attention of the Roman Governor of Gaul, Rictus Varus, who had them tortured and then beheaded for their religious beliefs in 286 A.D. Crispin and Crispinian are the patron Saints of cobblers and leather workers.

The Battle of Agincourt - 25 Oct. 1415

. . . [G]entlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

Shakespeare, Henry V, Act IV, Scene 3

This was the most famous battle of the Hundred Years War fought between England and France. The English army was in dire straits. They had little food, dysentery ran rampant through the army, and they had just completed a two week march of 260 miles. On the eve of battle, Henry V was able to field 5,000 archers and just 1,000 dismounted knights and infantry. The French army was in much better shape and at least twice as large, with some estimates putting it at six times as large. It consisted mostly of armoured knights and infantry, with a cavalry arm of 1,200 mounted knights. Inexplicably, the French commander did not deploy his own archers and crossbow troops.

The two armies formed up at opposite ends of recently ploughed farmland thick with mud and flanked on both sides with dense woods. Henry took the initiative, marching his soldiers to within 300 yards of the French - that being the range of his archers armed with the famed longbow. The troops did the medieval equivalent of digging in, with the longbowmen placing pointed stakes in front of their position to stop any cavalry charge. Once complete, Henry ordered his archers to open fire.

The French cavalry charged directly into the longbow volleys. Decimated, they only succeeded in churning up the mud directly in front of the French front line before the survivors retreated in disarray. The French commander then deployed his armored infantry and dismounted knights, with thousands marching across the open terrain in knee deep mud and under withering attack from the English longbowmen. Those that reached the English line were exhausted. The longbowmen dropped their bows and took up axes and mallets to stem the advance. A second advance ordered by the French commander fared no better. It was a slaughter.

At the end of three hours of fighting, upwards of 10,000 French lay dead on the field, while English losses barely topped 100. Henry V would return to England to be hailed a conquering hero, and indeed, his win at Agincourt would be made famous by Shakespeare in the play Henry V.

The Charge Of The Light Brigade - 25 Oct. 1854

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!
"Charge for the guns!" he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, The Charge of the Light Brigade

The Crimean War of 1853 - 1856 pitted Britain, France and the Ottomans against Russia for control of territories of the declining Ottoman Empire. It was during that war, in the Battle of Balaclava, that the charge of the Light Brigade took place. It was an error, it was suicidal, it surprisingly succeeded but was not then exploited, and it soon became the stuff of legend.

You can read the entire account of the Battle of Balaclava here. The charge of the Light Brigade took place across a mile of open terrain at the end of which were a mass of Russian cannon and riflemen nearly ten times the number of the Light Brigade. The order to charge was the ambiguous and, later, found to have been misconstrued. Seeing the charge as suicidal, the Commander of the Light Brigade, the Earl of Cardigan, nonetheless formed up ranks and led his cavalry into "the valley of death," his soldiers unflinching. He was supposed to be supported by the "Heavy Brigade" commanded by the 3rd Earl of Lucan.

Into the face of withering fire, the Light Brigade made its charge, suffering horrendous casualties. Amazingly, enough of the Brigade made it to the objective that the Russians retreated. But the Heavy Brigade, which was supposed to follow on and that could have exploited this amazing victory, never marched down the valley. This allowed the Russians to regroup and counter attack against the Light Brigade, decimating the survivors and regaining their initial positions. In the end, the Light Brigade lost over half its soldiers, either killed, wounded or captured. Their attack was well publicized at home, and was the subject of Tennyson's famous poem, The Charge Of The Light Brigade, celebrating the courage of the soldiers who made the charge.

The Battle of Leyte Gulf - 25 Oct. 1944

This was the largest naval engagement in history, and was the true beginning of the end for Japan in WWII. This from Wiki:

It was fought in waters near the Philippine islands of Leyte and Samar from 23–26 October 1944, between combined US and Australian forces and the Imperial Japanese Navy. On 20 October, United States troops invaded the island of Leyte as part of a strategy aimed at isolating Japan from the countries it had occupied in Southeast Asia, and in particular depriving its forces and industry of vital oil supplies. The Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) mobilized nearly all of its remaining major naval vessels in an attempt to defeat the Allied invasion, but was repulsed by the US Navy's 3rd and 7th Fleets. The [Japanese Navy] failed to achieve its objective, suffered very heavy losses, and never afterwards sailed to battle in comparable force. The majority of its surviving heavy ships, deprived of fuel, remained in their bases for the rest of the Pacific War.

The Battle of Leyte Gulf consisted of four separate engagements between the opposing forces: the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, the Battle of Surigao Strait, the Battle of Cape EngaƱo and the Battle off Samar, as well as other actions.

The Battle of Leyte Gulf is also notable as the first battle in which Japanese aircraft carried out organized kamikaze attacks. Also worth noting is the fact that Japan at this battle had fewer aircraft than the Allied Forces had sea vessels, a clear demonstration of the difference in power of the two sides at this point of the war.

Happy St. Crispin's Day.

No comments: