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Renaissance Warfare and Weapons – Defending Against a Siege

Castles, with their thick, tall walls, were built for defense but with the advent of gunpowder they were no longer effective. For example, the army of Ferdinand and Isabella conquered the Moorish strongholds in Granada. These strongholds had held off attackers for centuries but the use of gunpowder and cannons proved no match for the old way of defending yourself.

Realizing that the old methods of building fortifications had to change, the Italian architect Leon Battista Alberti during the fifteenth century postulated that walls be “built in uneven lines, like the teeth of a saw”.

A few towns began building fortresses with this new style but the vast majority of rulers paid no attention to this new theory of protection. Things changed dramatically when Charles VIII invaded Italy with only 18,000 men and horse drawn siege engines. This tactic proved so effective that he could defeat virtually and city or state no matter how well it was defended.

It became obvious that a new style of fortress was needed to withstand these new styles of attacks.

New defense strategies:

The old high and relatively thin walls of the castles were easy targets for cannons. It was obvious that the most effective way to protect the fortress walls was to increase the thickness of the walls and to have varying angles to lessen the likelihood of a direct (square) cannon hit. Walls were lowered and earth was used to thicken them in front and in back. The old square towers familiar in the castles were changed into triangles.

The new fortress designs eventually led to the “trace italienne” style of fortification. Developed in Italy during the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries in response to the French invasion of the Italian peninsula. This new style of fortification was designed to withstand the use of cannons that so easily destroyed traditional fortifications.

To withstand an attack by the new weapons the walls were built lower and thicker. The new design also included the building of “bastions”. A bastion projects out from the main wall of a fortification and is situated at the corners of straight walls. The bastion allows the defenders to cover different angles and to cover adjacent bastions with protective fire. Bastions provide covering fire, often from multiple angles. The need for cover fire at differing angles led to the design of the “star” shaped fortress.

These star shaped defenses proved to be very difficult to capture. The cost to build these new styled fortresses was incredibly high. In a strange twist of fate the town of Siena spent so much money building the style of fortress for protection that it didn’t have enough money to maintain their army so it lost the war anyway.

Around the mid 1500’s this new style of fortress spread from Italy into the remainder of Europe. The demand for Italian engineers knowledgeable in the design of these new fortresses was especially high in war torn countries like the Netherlands, France and Spain.

These new fortresses could hold over 10,000 men and were designed to withstand a series of sieges. A fortress holding over ten thousand soldiers meant that the attacking armies had to be aware of the risk of a counter attack too.

In the late 1600’s Marshal Vauban, a French military engineer made improvements on the new fortress design. He added slopes so that attackers could no longer be protected when they got close to the fortress (these slopes are called glacis).A glacis is an artificial slope of earth placed in front of the wall of a defended position. The slopes are constructed to keep attackers under the fire of the defenders. Without the glacis, on natural ground level, troops attacking any high structure achieve a degree of protection from its fire when they get close to it. Raising the ground to form a glacis allows the defenders to keep the attackers under fire from a bastion or a parapet.

Vauban also improved on the bastion design to allow the attackers to be enfiladed. This meant they were designed to be able to shoot at various angles. An attacker is “enfiladed” if the defenders can shoot straight down the line of attack. For example if the defender can shoot down the length of a trench then the trench is “enfiladed”.

Vauban also added trenches as defense mechanisms.

Fort McHenry in Baltimore, La Citadelle in Quebec City and Fort Ticonderoga in New York are all examples of the Vauban fortress design.

A touch of “Swan Song” and a dash of “The Stand”…Very good post-apocalyptic tale in the mode and mood of R. McCammon’s “Swan Song” and S. King’s “The Stand”. ★★★★★

Excerpt from Troop of Shadows:

Colleyville, Texas

Dani cursed the weight of her backpack. The final two items from the ransacked Walgreens, crammed in as an afterthought ten minutes ago, might cost her everything. After surviving the last twelve months of hell only to be thwarted now by a can of Similac and a twelve-pack of Zest soap, would be sadly anticlimactic. Despite running at a full sprint down a dark suburban street, dodging overflowing garbage cans while eluding three men who would steal her hard-won tubes of Neosporin and likely rape and kill her in the process, she snorted at the thought of a fictional headline: Young Woman’s Life Ends Tragically but Zestfully Clean.

Damn it, she would ditch the backpack. She could come back tomorrow night for it, but right now staying alive outweighed any future benefit its contents might provide. As her pursuers rounded the corner behind her, she darted across the front lawn of a house and leaped over a cluster of dead juniper shrubs. A year ago, those shrubs had been green, manicured, and providing curb appeal to the upscale neighborhood; they functioned now as a hurdle component in the obstacle course Dani navigated on most nights.

She angled toward the side of the house and around the corner, only to come to an abrupt stop next to a six-foot barricade. Residents of these sprawling bedroom communities situated between Dallas and Fort Worth clung to their privacy fences as fiercely as their rural counterparts did to their firearms. Why all those day-trading dads and cheerleader moms required such secrecy was beyond Dani. She didn’t care. All that mattered was how difficult they made her nightly forages. Only idiots or people with a death wish traveled alone on the streets anymore. The clever ones navigated through backyards and drainage ditches, shadowed easements and alleyway, avoiding open spaces and other humans.

Especially humans traveling in groups.

Stealth and caution were second nature to her now, and she was pissed at herself for loading up the backpack with more weight than she could easily carry at a full run.

Rookie mistake.

She flung the pack into the undergrowth of a once meticulous garden, making a mental note of the enormous red tip photinia which camouflaged the bundle in a leafy shroud. She hoped to be alive the next day to retrieve it.

She clambered up the fence, finding a toehold on a warped plank, and squirmed over the top. A silver fingernail of a moon did little to illuminate the backyard. Weak starlight reflected off the inky surface of a half-empty, kidney-shaped swimming pool. Her Nikes gripped the concrete deck as she skirted the murky water and made a beeline for the back of the yard that was, of course, separated from its neighbor by a privacy fence. It was a tall one too — a full ten feet. There were no bushes or trees to use for leverage either. She scanned the area for anything that might serve as a step ladder.

Of all the yards she could have chosen for her escape, she’d picked one with a damn ten-foot fence.

Her heart raced from the sprint, but not from panic. Gone was the young woman from a year ago, the full-time floundering college dropout and part-time surly Starbucks barista who spent too much time reading books and not enough time looking for a job that would allow her to move out of her parents’ house. She was too smart for her own good, everyone had told her. She should have taken that secretarial position in North Dallas, but she would have lost her sanity in that environment. The tedious filing, the ringing phones, the office politics — in other words, hell on earth for a girl with an IQ over a hundred and fifty.

Despite the recent horrors, she’d come into her own at last, after twenty-one years of meandering through life unfocused and unchallenged. The extra twenty pounds she’d been carrying courtesy of Freddy’s cheeseburgers and Taco Bell burritos were gone, thanks to her newfound self-discipline and endless hours of Krav Maga training with Sam. Not only had she transformed her body, she’d elevated and strengthened her mind as well. Before the power had gone out, she’d watched countless tutorials on T’ai Chi, Qigong, and Buddhist meditation. During that same window — when people were beginning to get sick, but before most of them had died — she’d combed book stores and libraries within a fifteen-mile radius. When the country went dark and people realized that life-saving information was no longer available with a few keystrokes, Dani had amassed reference material on subjects as diverse as hydroponics and combat first aid, ancient meat drying techniques and bomb making. Between martial arts lessons with Sam, she spent every spare minute absorbing the printed esoteric knowledge like a greedy lizard on a sun-drenched rock.

Knowledge was survival.

When the first of the men slithered over the fence into the backyard, she hadn’t found anything to use as a foothold. Another figure followed behind him. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and released it from her lungs, slow and measured, then took off at a full run toward them. While she ran, fingers slid down to a leather sheath secured to her belt. Two seconds before she reached the first of her would-be assailants, a Ka-Bar — the grandaddy of tactical knives — was in her hand.

Dani used momentum and every ounce of her one-hundred-twenty pound frame to slam the first man into the second, knocking both assailants off-balance and unprepared for her next move: a vicious stab to the groin of the first. He collapsed to his knees. She followed with a backhand movement, opening up the throat of his companion. A similar gesture to the man with the injured groin silenced his moaning.

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