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**UT – The Battles of the Fords of Isen** 2. “The shieldwall was broken and the defenders in flight.”

squire
Half-elven


Mar 19 2014, 4:40am

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**UT – The Battles of the Fords of Isen** 2. “The shieldwall was broken and the defenders in flight.” Can't Post

Welcome back to our discussion of “The Battles of the Fords of Isen” in Tolkien’s Unfinished Tales. Today we will continue our reading of the main text, from page 359 to 364. The subject is the Second Battle of the Fords of Isen, which took place on March 2, five days after the First Battle which was fought on February 27 (February had 30 days in Middle-earth).

Tolkien opens by remarking that, compared to the preceding detailed tactical narrative of the First Battle, “Of the Second Battle no such clear accounts were ever made, owing to the much greater events that immediately followed.” Yet in the introduction to the First Battle, he said “It was clearly seen in Rohan, when the true accounts of the battles at the Fords were known, ….” (bold by squire). And in fact, what we are about to read seems to be just as clear and detailed as the first narrative was.
A. Are these two statements in conflict? Who is speaking in the voice of the narrator? What does Tolkien want us to think?

To pick up the story where the preceding one left off:

With Theodred dead, Erkenbrand the lord of Westfold, based in the Hornburg fortress in the Deeping Coomb, took command of the West-mark. He sent news of Theodred’s death, and urged King Theoden to send Eomer and the rest of Rohan’s forces west immediately (as Theodred himself had assumed before he died), as a forward defense of Edoras the capital. Grima Wormtongue “used the curtness of this advice” to “further his policy of delay”, so that in fact no forces left Edoras until a week later, March 2 – the same day on which Saruman launched his invasion across the Fords.
B. With Saruman a clear aggressor, how or why would a merely “curt” message of strategic advice allow Grima to counsel or engineer further delay?

It seems in this account that there was no one at court aside from Eomer who was willing or able to advocate an aggressive defense of Rohan, yet Grima is said to be the only one responsible for Théoden’s dotage and timidity.
C. Why had the nobles of Rohan not long since thrown him down a well, at the risk of Theoden’s anger, so as to save the Mark?

Erkenbrand busied himself with the defense of the Westfold Vale against the coming assault, so he did not go to the Fords to scope out the state of Rohan’s remaining forces there. Instead he told Grimbold to do his best with what he had; Elfhelm was left to his own devices, as being from Edoras and so responsible directly to Théoden. Thus the Fords were under a divided command, usually a prime no-no in military operations.

Luckily, we are told, “the two commanders were, however, friends and both loyal and wise men, and there was no dissension between them; the ordering of their forces was a compromise between their differing opinions.”
D. Is this a commentary on more recent military history?

What follows is an intensive dissection of the debate between Grimbold and Elfhelm.

Briefly, Elfhelm analyzed the First Battle and his own role in it, and concluded that defending the Fords no longer made sense due to Saruman’s ability to outflank them from the east; he recommended setting a trap for the next army which would come down the east bank: “Let Isen be their snare and not ours!”

Grimbold argued the continued value of holding and defending the Fords, partly due to Westfold tradition but also because a concentration against an attack via the east bank would leave the Rohirrim vulnerable to a second column from Isengard down the west bank and across the Fords into their rear. As he put it, “We do not know what force Saruman has still at his command. But … it must be very great.”
E. Which is the better strategy? Or was there a third option?




Well, the upshot is, as we’ve been told, the two men split the difference. Grimbold and his Riders hugged the east end of the Fords, but he sent his foot soldiers to hold the west end of the Fords in “a strong position in the earth-forts that guarded the approaches.”
F. Wait a minute. What earth-forts? Were they there during the First Battle? Who built them and why? Should they have been made stronger during the ‘cold war’ against Saruman?

Meanwhile, Elfhelm’s force of Riders were disposed as he had wanted the whole army to be. His force alone was too small to actually stop an army of Isengard, so he saw his function as that of a picket to disperse an eastern attack and warn Grimbold at the Fords.
G. Pleasantries aside, did these two generals do the right thing by splitting their forces and commands, or not?

And so the Second Battle begins. We are immediately told that “all went ill, as most likely it would have done in any case: Saruman’s strength was too great.” The leading sections of his main army did come down the western road from Isengard. In the afternoon of March 2nd its vanguard engaged Grimbold’s men in the approach forts. The fighting went back and forth, and eventually Grimbold was forced to withdraw across the Fords, where he continued to hold the eastern bank. Elfhelm did not join this battle, but did pull his screen closer to Grimbold’s camp. As night fell, the Rohirrim prepared for a last-ditch defense of the eastern end of the Fords, having sent word to Erkenbrand and even to Théoden that they were in dire straits.

The final attack came at midnight, by torchlight: Saruman’s army, burning to conquer the Westfold, crossed the Fords and mounted the east bank, forcing Grimbold back to his camp where he set up a shieldwall which was soon surrounded by enemies in the dark.




This attacking army is said in the notes to be the host that the hobbits and the Ents watched leave Isengard some hours earlier. Both the LotR description and this text, along with its notes, emphasize the fearsome effect of the thousands of fiery torches that the enemy carried and lit, as they massed for an overwhelming attack.
H. Why torches, which occupy a hand that could be used for fighting? Why fight a full-scale battle at night at all, against every ‘real-world’ military tradition?

Comment on the ‘shieldwall’:
I. Is it effective? Under what conditions and against what weaponry? Is it a cavalry or infantry tactic? Historically, which armies have trained for and used a shieldwall?

Although neither the Orcs nor the taller Dunlendings initially succeeded in breaking through the shieldwall, Grimbold recognized that he was in the endgame. His choices were to flee or die, and he realized – indeed had already realized and had planned accordingly – that Elfhelm had been right and that the Fords were undefendable and no longer worth dying for. It was better to scatter and sauve qui peut (every man save himself), with the goal of making it to Helm’s Deep to reinforce Erkenbrand against what was coming. He therefore ordered the shieldwall opened to the east; the remaining Riders emerged and circled back around the camp, briefly scattering the besieging Isengarders and creating an opening for the remaining soldiers to flee into the darkness, south and east.

We were overmastered. The shield-wall was broken.’ – Ceorl, reporting to Théoden, LotR III.7.

J. When you read this line in The Lord of the Rings, did you imagine the scenario reported above: Grimbold breaking the shieldwall from within to allow his troops to escape certain death?

The enemy quickly recovered from the jiu-jitsu of the Rohirrim’s breakout, but having won the battle chose to advance as planned towards the Hornburg, rather than mop up the fleeing Riders and footsoldiers. Most of Grimbold’s men thus survived to be reorganized later by Gandalf and Erkenbrand.

Meanwhile, what of Elfhelm? Why had he not backed Grimbold up at the Fords? In fact, Saruman had truly emptied his fortress and so had two large armies; the larger was the one that crossed the bridge and headed south (over rougher country without a road) to, once again, take the Fords from the east, mop up, and continue into Rohan. Leading this army was a “swift and silent” vanguard of “the dreaded wolf-riders”, who infiltrated without warning between Elfhelm and Grimbold and then began to cut in among the groups of Riders. Thus Elfhelm’s force was both scattered and unable to get west to Grimbold’s camp; in fact Elfhelm was barely able to escape east with what troops he could muster together. The larger enemy army then passed on south towards the Westfold, even as Grimbold continued to delay the forces that had come down the road west of the Fords.

In The Lord of the Rings, perhaps the situation is different but Eomer’s men seemed remarkably able to fight with an orc army in the dark of the night:

But these Whiteskins have better night-eyes than most Men, from all I’ve heard; and don’t forget their horses! They can see the night-breeze, or so it’s said.” Ugluk, in LotR III.3.
…some of the Men had ridden in close, slipped off their horses, crawled to the edge of the camp and killed several Orcs, and then had faded away again. Ibid.

Elfhelm was expecting an attack and had encountered the wolf-riders themselves the week before.
K. Why were the marauders so able to evade his defenses and frustrate his entire plan for ambushing the oncoming Isengarders and so guarding Grimbold’s rear?




With both Grimbold and Elfhelm driven off the road and into the countryside, Saruman’s armies continued to advance south into Rohan. News of the disaster reached the King, and Gandalf, in the late afternoon of the next day, March 3. Gandalf at once directed Théoden to make for the fortress at Helm’s Deep, and himself made a heroic dash to Isengard, knowing from earlier clues that it had been invested by the Ents. He summoned Treebeard to Helm’s Deep, snapped at the hobbits, and dashed back to the Westfold. According to this account, “he must have met Grimbold and Elfhelm” both coming and going, and they took his orders as if he was their commander due to his knowledge of the situation, his riding the King’s horse, and his natural authority.
L. Is it imaginable that Gandalf would meet both these disoriented and fleeing commanders, while both going to and coming from Isengard in the midst of the total chaos that characterizes a land under invasion by 10,000 men and orcs?

What happened next? We don’t know, because this is, after all, an…

... …

Unfinished Tale!

At the beginning of this somewhat technical essay, Tolkien set himself two goals. One, to explain why it was that Theodred was killed almost a week before Rohan could possibly have defended itself from an invasion, yet the army that killed him then withdrew on its own accord back to Isengard.
M. Did Tolkien succeed in explaining this? How did he get into this odd position in the first place?

Two, Tolkien wanted to demonstrate that the Fords of Isen presented not a defense against a hostile power in Isengard, but rather functioned as a trap for any military force that tried to hold them due to Saruman’s ability to send forces down either side of the Isen. Tolkien predicted that neither offense nor defense would work; and in his two battles, sure enough, we see the failures of Theodred’s strategy of offense and Grimbold’s and Elfhelm’s strategy of defense.
N. Since we hear so little of these battles in the main story in The Lord of the Rings, leaving Tolkien to describe them as he chooses, is this essay in fact just a kind of theoretical treatise on how a specific geography might dictate the outcome of military operations?

Throughout The Lord of the Rings, the Rohirrim are presented as the ultimate cavalry force. But as Darkstone has noted in his reply to yesterday’s post (see G.) , a cavalry alone is not an army; it doesn’t ‘hold ground’. By moving faster than foot soldiers, mounted troops serve as scouts, screens, messengers, and raiders behind the lines. At times the cavalry even dramatically affects a battle itself as a shock force charging an enemy line or column across open ground; on the other hand it is useless in a siege or in assault against fixed positions. (In WW I, which was one gigantic siege, the famed British cavalry uselessly grazed its horses in the rear areas of the Western Front for four years, waiting in vain for the “breakthrough” where it could race behind German lines ahead of the advancing Tommies.)
O. In the Battles of the Fords of Isen, whether assaulting the muster of Isengard or holding the Fords, were the Riders of Rohan their own worst enemy, or was it after all the dwimmer-crafty Saruman with his vile wolf-riders and axe-men?

Tomorrow we’ll examine Tolkien’s “appendices” to this essay. But the actual narrative is over now. P. Out of all the Unfinished Tales, how much do you like reading this one? Why?



squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Footeramas: The 3rd & 4th TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion and NOW the 1st BotR Discussion too! and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
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Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Mar 20 2014, 12:23am

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As Gandalf himself said, Wormtongue played a cunning game. At first he convinced everyone that Saruman was a friend but that argument soon proved false. What arguments he produced after that, is not clear. Perhaps he said things like no-one could have predicted Saruman as an enemy in that way a bit like Britain after the Falklands war. But after that his arguments subtly shifted. According to Gandalf he used whatever means he could to stop Rohan mustering its forces including bewitching the King's mind using delaying tactics, 'We can't possibly fight the forces of Isengard with so little men,' etc Of course he might well have had opposition in the court, but possibly those that could have had influence with the King were out fighting or in jail like Eomer. I hate to bring in something from the movies, but perhaps it had a point in that Wormtongue was possibly not alone in the council and others did his dirty work also.


noWizardme
Valinor


Mar 20 2014, 4:17pm

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Raises more Qs than As when it comes to strategy [In reply to] Can't Post


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At the beginning of this somewhat technical essay, Tolkien set himself two goals. One, to explain why it was that Theodred was killed almost a week before Rohan could possibly have defended itself from an invasion, yet the army that killed him then withdrew on its own accord back to Isengard.
M. Did Tolkien succeed in explaining this? How did he get into this odd position in the first place?


No, I think that, by inviting us to think more deeply about this, Tolkien just highlights the problems.

I think it does seem odd that Saruman, once committed to attacking, doesn't just keep going. (I think that was our conclusion from the last part of this discussion too?)

Moreover, it makes one wonder what is on the scroll titled "War Aims" which Saruman presumably has around the place somewhere. Evil Overlords are, of course supposed to attack without reason or mercy, and that is probably good enough for LOTR, but now we are presented with a more analytical discussion, one wonders unhelpful things like:
Does Saruman need war with Rohan at all right now, given that Wormtongue seems to be doing such a good job?
Theodred is killed the day before Merry and Pippin are captured, I think; so the attempt to capture the Ringbearer and the attempt to kill Theodred are simultaneous operations. Open war with Rohan now seems an odd choice given that Saruman is bound to need his forces for other tasks if his Ring-heist works out : if that happens, Sauron is likely to be ...annnoyed... to say the least.

~~~~~~

"… ever let your aim be to come at truth, not to conquer your opponent. So you never shall be at a loss in losing the argument, and gaining a new discovery.”
Arthur Martine

"nowimë I am in the West, Furincurunir to the Dwarves (or at least, to their best friend) and by other names in other lands. Mostly they just say 'Oh no it's him - look busy!' "
Or "Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!"


noWizardme
Valinor


Mar 20 2014, 4:29pm

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As far as I know, shieldwalls are a peculiarly a heavy infantry tactic, with close relations in a pike formation (2-handed weapons rather than one hand to have a large shield) and, arguably, the anti-cavalry Square formations of the Napoleonic era. Then firearms became too powerful and rapid-fire for it to be much use.

This article is (currently) quite good: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shield_wall

I think that a major point of it was to keep everyone packed together into a fearsome lump which mounted attackers would flow around (as the French cavalry did for some hours at Waterloo, or the Norman cavalry did at the Battle of Hastings). At Hastings, I believe, it was pretty much a standoff until some parts of Harold's army were tricked by the Normans doing a fake retreat - they rushed after their'beaten' foes, breaking their own sheldwall & making themselves easier pickings for the Norman knights

It's quite an Anglo-Saxon or Norse thing, and the Rohirrim seem to be of that kind of ilk, though crossed with the cavalry cultures of further south and East in early medieval Europe. Feasibly, the idea is they get the best of both worlds - the mobility and attack of cavalry, but dismount and make a shieldwall for defence.

I agree - I had not imagined the shieldwall being broken by order of its leaders; I'd assumed it had been overwhelmed.

~~~~~~

"… ever let your aim be to come at truth, not to conquer your opponent. So you never shall be at a loss in losing the argument, and gaining a new discovery.”
Arthur Martine

"nowimë I am in the West, Furincurunir to the Dwarves (or at least, to their best friend) and by other names in other lands. Mostly they just say 'Oh no it's him - look busy!' "
Or "Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!"


noWizardme
Valinor


Mar 20 2014, 4:36pm

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Gandalf had Location Services set to 'on' [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
With both Grimbold and Elfhelm driven off the road and into the countryside, Saruman’s armies continued to advance south into Rohan. News of the disaster reached the King, and Gandalf, in the late afternoon of the next day, March 3. Gandalf at once directed Théoden to make for the fortress at Helm’s Deep, and himself made a heroic dash to Isengard, knowing from earlier clues that it had been invested by the Ents. He summoned Treebeard to Helm’s Deep, snapped at the hobbits, and dashed back to the Westfold. According to this account, “he must have met Grimbold and Elfhelm” both coming and going, and they took his orders as if he was their commander due to his knowledge of the situation, his riding the King’s horse, and his natural authority.
L. Is it imaginable that Gandalf would meet both these disoriented and fleeing commanders, while both going to and coming from Isengard in the midst of the total chaos that characterizes a land under invasion by 10,000 men and orcs?


Ah, you see - A Wizard Did It !Wink(http://tvtropes.org/...hp/Main/AWizardDidIt )
(That is - probably better not to ask)



~~~~~~

"… ever let your aim be to come at truth, not to conquer your opponent. So you never shall be at a loss in losing the argument, and gaining a new discovery.”
Arthur Martine

"nowimë I am in the West, Furincurunir to the Dwarves (or at least, to their best friend) and by other names in other lands. Mostly they just say 'Oh no it's him - look busy!' "
Or "Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!"

(This post was edited by noWizardme on Mar 20 2014, 4:48pm)


Darkstone
Immortal


Mar 20 2014, 9:40pm

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"But now — right well, O hear me tell /What Orcish troops can do /When marshall'd by a Saruman..." [In reply to] Can't Post

Tolkien opens by remarking that, compared to the preceding detailed tactical narrative of the First Battle, “Of the Second Battle no such clear accounts were ever made, owing to the much greater events that immediately followed.” Yet in the introduction to the First Battle, he said “It was clearly seen in Rohan, when the true accounts of the battles at the Fords were known, ….” (bold by squire). And in fact, what we are about to read seems to be just as clear and detailed as the first narrative was.
A. Are these two statements in conflict?


Yes and no.


Who is speaking in the voice of the narrator?

A Gondorian archivist intent on “tidying up” the official accounts.


What does Tolkien want us to think?

That his history has verisimilitude.


With Theodred dead, Erkenbrand the lord of Westfold, based in the Hornburg fortress in the Deeping Coomb, took command of the West-mark. He sent news of Theodred’s death, and urged King Theoden to send Eomer and the rest of Rohan’s forces west immediately (as Theodred himself had assumed before he died), as a forward defense of Edoras the capital. Grima Wormtongue “used the curtness of this advice” to “further his policy of delay”, so that in fact no forces left Edoras until a week later, March 2 – the same day on which Saruman launched his invasion across the Fords.
B. With Saruman a clear aggressor, how or why would a merely “curt” message of strategic advice allow Grima to counsel or engineer further delay?


But -- but the basic principle here -- basic principle is that you don't deploy forces into harm's way without knowing what's going on; without having some real-time information about what's taking place. And as a result of not having that kind of information, the commander who was on the ground in that area, General Ham, General Dempsey and I felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that situation.
-Department of Defense News Briefing with US Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin E. Dempsey, October 25, 2012, re the attack on the American diplomatic mission in Bengazi, Libya, on the night of September 11, 2012.


It seems in this account that there was no one at court aside from Eomer who was willing or able to advocate an aggressive defense of Rohan, yet Grima is said to be the only one responsible for Théoden’s dotage and timidity.
C. Why had the nobles of Rohan not long since thrown him down a well, at the risk of Theoden’s anger, so as to save the Mark?


Jackson’s film version of TTT provides the answer: Grima had recruited his own band of personal followers for the protection of himself and for the intimidation of others.


Erkenbrand busied himself with the defense of the Westfold Vale against the coming assault, so he did not go to the Fords to scope out the state of Rohan’s remaining forces there. Instead he told Grimbold to do his best with what he had; Elfhelm was left to his own devices, as being from Edoras and so responsible directly to Théoden. Thus the Fords were under a divided command, usually a prime no-no in military operations.

From “The Royal Australian Air Force: A History”, by Alan Stephens, re the ambiguous relationship between the positions of Air Officer Commanding (AOC) and the Chief of Air Staff (CAS) in the RAAF during WWII: “This system of divided command... was not an ideal arrangement, but with men of goodwill it could have worked.”


Luckily, we are told, “the two commanders were, however, friends and both loyal and wise men, and there was no dissension between them; the ordering of their forces was a compromise between their differing opinions.”

Hahahahahahahaha!


D. Is this a commentary on more recent military history?

On the one hand divided command proved disastrous for the Russians during the Russo-Finnish War, for the Germans during The Great War, and for the French during the Second World War.

On the other hand the divided command of the Pacific Theater in WWII between Americans Admiral William “Bull” Halsey and General Douglas MacArthur worked well enough:

Halsey re MacArthur: "He's a very fine man. I have worked under him for over two years and have the greatest admiration and respect for him.”
-Utica Daily Press, 2/20/45

MacArthur re Halsey: “"I liked him from the moment we met, and my respect and admiration increased with time. His loyalty was undeviating, and I placed the greatest confidence in his judgment. No name rates higher in the annals of our country's naval history."
–Douglas MacArthur, Reminiscences

On the other other hand the most famous example of divided command not working is that of the Battle of Cannae, a major battle of the Second Punic War, which took place on August 2, 216 BC. The army of Carthage under Hannibal Barca (“the father of strategy”) effectively wiped out a larger army of the Roman Republic under the divided command (switched between the two every day) of the Roman consuls Lucius Aemilius Paullus and Gaius Terentius Varro. It is regarded as one of the most brilliant tactical feats in military history and the worst military defeat in Roman history.


Briefly, Elfhelm analyzed the First Battle and his own role in it, and concluded that defending the Fords no longer made sense due to Saruman’s ability to outflank them from the east; he recommended setting a trap for the next army which would come down the east bank: “Let Isen be their snare and not ours!”

Grimbold argued the continued value of holding and defending the Fords, partly due to Westfold tradition but also because a concentration against an attack via the east bank would leave the Rohirrim vulnerable to a second column from Isengard down the west bank and across the Fords into their rear. As he put it, “We do not know what force Saruman has still at his command. But … it must be very great.”
E. Which is the better strategy? Or was there a third option?


Third option: Keep the infantry in reserve in a central location, use the cavalry to keep tabs on the enemy, discover which avenue he is pursuing, then rush everything to counter. Again, they seem a bit clueless on the basics of using cavalry.


Well, the upshot is, as we’ve been told, the two men split the difference. Grimbold and his Riders hugged the east end of the Fords, but he sent his foot soldiers to hold the west end of the Fords in “a strong position in the earth-forts that guarded the approaches.”
F. Wait a minute. What earth-forts? Were they there during the First Battle? Who built them and why? Should they have been made stronger during the ‘cold war’ against Saruman?


Probably dug on the spot overnight.

One of the most famous quickly dug earthworks was the redoubt dug during the siege of Boston on Breed’s Hill the night of June 16, by Continental Colonel William Prescott and his men. (His orders were to build it on nearby Bunker Hill, but I guess it was really really dark that night.) The next morning the British really freaked out seeing a new fortification on the hill where there wasn’t one the previous evening. I presume Prescott’s commanders were similarly freaked out when they didn’t see a fortification on the hill where there was supposed have been one.


Meanwhile, Elfhelm’s force of Riders were disposed as he had wanted the whole army to be. His force alone was too small to actually stop an army of Isengard, so he saw his function as that of a picket to disperse an eastern attack and warn Grimbold at the Fords.
G. Pleasantries aside, did these two generals do the right thing by splitting their forces and commands, or not?


Napoleon’s tactic of the “central position” involved splitting his forces against two enemies. But he made sure the one force was strong enough to defeat the enemy it was facing. And that the other was agile enough to keep from getting heavily engaged by the enemy it was facing and getting ripped apart. Then when the first enemy was defeated the larger force could come to the aid of the smaller and surprise the second enemy. Elfhelm and Grimbold instead use a silver platter and deliver their forces to their respective enemies in smaller, easily defeated “pennypackets”. Frankly the situation couldn’t be any worse than if they were indeed intensely jealous rival commanders who’d rather go down in defeat than coordinate with each other. (For example, see WWI where the antagonism between Russian generals Aleksandr Samsonov and Pavel Rennenkampf prevented the coordination of their advance into East Prussia with the tragedies of Tannenberg (1914) and the Masurian Lakes (1914) as the result.)


And so the Second Battle begins. We are immediately told that “all went ill, as most likely it would have done in any case: Saruman’s strength was too great.”

I’m thinking something on the Rohirrim side was “too little”, but if you can’t say anything nice….


This attacking army is said in the notes to be the host that the hobbits and the Ents watched leave Isengard some hours earlier. Both the LotR description and this text, along with its notes, emphasize the fearsome effect of the thousands of fiery torches that the enemy carried and lit, as they massed for an overwhelming attack.
H. Why torches, which occupy a hand that could be used for fighting?


The better for when they meet Rick Cottontree during their frolick through the Rohan countryside.

Plus the aforementioned “fearsome effect”.


Why fight a full-scale battle at night at all, against every ‘real-world’ military tradition?

Non-real world orcs function better in the dark.


Comment on the ‘shieldwall’:
I. Is it effective?


It can be.


Under what conditions…

It’s best for soldiers with great strength and endurance. In a contest between Men and Uruk-Hai, guess which one that best describes.


….and against what weaponry?

Basically the first rank stabs whatever is in front of them with short weapons and the second and third rank pokes whatever is in front of the first rank with long weapons. More skilled soldiers learn to stab whatever is to one side or the other. Also it involves a lot of trust because your shield is protecting the guy on your left while the guy on your right is (hopefully) protecting you.


Is it a cavalry or infantry tactic?

Infantry. Cavalry can quickly break a shieldwall if the defenders waver.


Historically, which armies have trained for and used a shieldwall?

Greeks, Romans, Vikings, Anglo-Saxons, and the Danes. Machiavelli in his Art of War advocated everybody retuning to the use of the shieldwall, but I think he was just trying to sucker Florence’s enemies into doing so while Florence armed itself with arquebuses and c annons because, hey, it’s Machiavelli.


Although neither the Orcs nor the taller Dunlendings initially succeeded in breaking through the shieldwall, Grimbold recognized that he was in the endgame. His choices were to flee or die, and he realized – indeed had already realized and had planned accordingly – that Elfhelm had been right and that the Fords were undefendable and no longer worth dying for. It was better to scatter and sauve qui peut (every man save himself), with the goal of making it to Helm’s Deep to reinforce Erkenbrand against what was coming. He therefore ordered the shieldwall opened to the east; the remaining Riders emerged and circled back around the camp, briefly scattering the besieging Isengarders and creating an opening for the remaining soldiers to flee into the darkness, south and east.

Woe, woe! thou caitiff-hero,
Thou Emperor — and slave,
Why didst not thou, too, nobly bleed
With those devoted brave?
No, no,— the recreant's thought was self,
And "Sauve qui peut!" his cry,
And verily at Waterloo
Did Great Napoleon die!

He died to fame, while yet his name
Was on ten thousand tongues,
That trusted him, and pray'd to him,
And — cursed him for their wrongs!
O noble souls! Imperial Guard,
Had your chief been but true,
Ye would have stood and stopp'd the rout
At crushing Waterloo!

- Martin Farquhar Tupper, “Waterloo (A Ballad For The Soldier)” (1849)


‘We were overmastered. The shield-wall was broken.’ – Ceorl, reporting to Théoden, LotR III.7.

J. When you read this line in The Lord of the Rings, did you imagine the scenario reported above: Grimbold breaking the shieldwall from within to allow his troops to escape certain death?


Nope, but it seemed obvious from the stragglers that some sort of disastrous rout happened.


The enemy quickly recovered from the jiu-jitsu of the Rohirrim’s breakout, but having won the battle chose to advance as planned towards the Hornburg, rather than mop up the fleeing Riders and footsoldiers. Most of Grimbold’s men thus survived to be reorganized later by Gandalf and Erkenbrand.

During WWI British Military Police would establish Stragglers' Posts from which they organised the flow of men who had become detached from their units and to reunite them. Second Lieutenant Tolkien probably worked closely with them since it was the same Military Police who ensured that regimental runners and couriers were in the correct operational area and directed them as necessary.

Gandalf as an MP?


In The Lord of the Rings, perhaps the situation is different but Eomer’s men seemed remarkably able to fight with an orc army in the dark of the night:

“But these Whiteskins have better night-eyes than most Men, from all I’ve heard; and don’t forget their horses! They can see the night-breeze, or so it’s said.” Ugluk, in LotR III.3.
…some of the Men had ridden in close, slipped off their horses, crawled to the edge of the camp and killed several Orcs, and then had faded away again. Ibid.


Eomer’s men are probably of a standing eored while the others are more of a trained militia. Experience counts.


Elfhelm was expecting an attack and had encountered the wolf-riders themselves the week before.
K. Why were the marauders so able to evade his defenses and frustrate his entire plan for ambushing the oncoming Isengarders and so guarding Grimbold’s rear?


It was dark.


L. Is it imaginable that Gandalf would meet both these disoriented and fleeing commanders, while both going to and coming from Isengard in the midst of the total chaos that characterizes a land under invasion by 10,000 men and orcs?

Add in that he’d been killed by a balrog and came back to life then argue what is more imaginable.


At the beginning of this somewhat technical essay, Tolkien set himself two goals. One, to explain why it was that Theodred was killed almost a week before Rohan could possibly have defended itself from an invasion, yet the army that killed him then withdrew on its own accord back to Isengard.
M. Did Tolkien succeed in explaining this?


Meh.


How did he get into this odd position in the first place?

By not telling the strands of his tale in parallel, like Jackson did.


Two, Tolkien wanted to demonstrate that the Fords of Isen presented not a defense against a hostile power in Isengard, but rather functioned as a trap for any military force that tried to hold them due to Saruman’s ability to send forces down either side of the Isen. Tolkien predicted that neither offense nor defense would work; and in his two battles, sure enough, we see the failures of Theodred’s strategy of offense and Grimbold’s and Elfhelm’s strategy of defense.

Yet King Harold in much the same situation at the Battle of Stamford Bridge won the day.


N. Since we hear so little of these battles in the main story in The Lord of the Rings, leaving Tolkien to describe them as he chooses, is this essay in fact just a kind of theoretical treatise on how a specific geography might dictate the outcome of military operations?

Unfortunately the more he tries to justify what happened the less competent the Rohirrim commanders look. Better to have left it to the imagination.


Throughout The Lord of the Rings, the Rohirrim are presented as the ultimate cavalry force. But as Darkstone has noted...

Haven't you learned not to listen to that blowhard?


O. In the Battles of the Fords of Isen, whether assaulting the muster of Isengard or holding the Fords, were the Riders of Rohan their own worst enemy, or was it after all the dwimmer-crafty Saruman with his vile wolf-riders and axe-men?

“Never interfere with your enemy when he is making a mistake.” One wonders if Saruman had only waited long enough the Rohirrim would have utterly destroyed themselves beyond even Gandalf's ability to pull miracles out of his hat.


P. Out of all the Unfinished Tales, how much do you like reading this one?

It’s nice.


Why?

I like military history.

******************************************
Brothers, sisters,
I was Elf once.
We danced together
Under the Two Trees.
We sang as the soft gold of Laurelin
And the bright silver of Telperion,
Brought forth the dawn of the world.
Then I was taken.

Brothers, sisters,
In my torment I kept faith,
And I waited.
But you never came.
And when I returned you drew sword,
And when I called your names you drew bow.
Was my Eldar beauty all,
And my soul nothing?

So be it.
I will return your hatred,
And I am hungry.




(This post was edited by Darkstone on Mar 20 2014, 9:47pm)


sador
Half-elven


Mar 24 2014, 4:54pm

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A. Are these two statements in conflict? Who is speaking in the voice of the narrator? What does Tolkien want us to think?
Well, one can argue that in Rohan, the accounts were compared and many things clarified; but Rohan wasn't a literary culture, so no the Gondorian scribe could find no extant sources and is drawing on oral accounts rather than written ones.

B. With Saruman a clear aggressor, how or why would a merely “curt” message of strategic advice allow Grima to counsel or engineer further delay?
Easily. Erkenbrand wasn't even a marshal of the Mark or present at the field, and all of a sudden assumes command, presuming to demand Eomer's presence.
And if he was a longtime opponent of Grima's policy of appeasement in the West, he could have been at war-mongering against the Dunlendings.

And orcs - are you really sure they are in Saruman's service? Saruman is a long, proven ally; the orcs might have come from the Misty Mountains.

C. Why had the nobles of Rohan not long since thrown him down a well, at the risk of Theoden’s anger, so as to save the Mark?
Like Yusupov and Perishkevich with Rasputin, they have tried to - but as firearms were not invented yet, mere poisoning, clubbing and attempting to drown him were insufficient.

D. Is this a commentary on more recent military history?
Well, Tolkien would naturally think of Haig and Joffre, wouldn't he?
And I'm not at all sure he had the same opinion of Haig which has become now popular, and Darkstone in particular likes to bring. JRRT was neither Graves nor Owen, and might have felt that his commander was done an injustice (not that it means anything, but Garth seems to also think that).

E. Which is the better strategy? Or was there a third option?

Of course there was!

Quote

"How?" asked Gimlet, seeing no hiding place on the flat plain. "Do we fight or flee?"
"Neither," said the Ranger, falling limp on the ground. "We'll all play dead!"

But Tolkien does indicate that Elfhelm's approach justified itself.

F. Wait a minute. What earth-forts? Were they there during the First Battle? Who built them and why? Should they have been made stronger during the ‘cold war’ against Saruman?
Well, I suppose they were there all along.
And they might have been made stronger, if Grimbold wasn't arguing with Elfhelm regarding dispositions, or if Erkenbrand would be giving clear orders.

G. Pleasantries aside, did these two generals do the right thing by splitting their forces and commands, or not?
Splitting the forces is not necessarily a bad thing; but in this case, it proved near-disastrous.
Grimbold's forces were flung to far, and Elfhelm couldn't really contain the forces on the East side. Although scouts might have helped.

H. Why torches, which occupy a hand that could be used for fighting?
The same question could be asked about slags and standards. It is a good idea to see were you are going.

Why fight a full-scale battle at night at all, against every ‘real-world’ military tradition?
Well, unlike the goblins in The Hobbit, these forces seem able to move during daytime; so it is very appropriate that they would attack at night, while the Bo5A is held at day.

I. Is it effective? Under what conditions and against what weaponry? Is it a cavalry or infantry tactic? Historically, which armies have trained for and used a shieldwall?

I can't improve on nowiz' answer.
Well, perhaps I can - but this involves research I can't do at the time. Did he mention the Macedonian phalanx?

J. When you read this line in The Lord of the Rings, did you imagine the scenario reported above: Grimbold breaking the shieldwall from within to allow his troops to escape certain death?
No, and it still doesn't seem consistent. Maybe Ceorl was one of Elfhelm's troops, and he got the wrong impression of what really happened.

K. Why were the marauders so able to evade his defenses and frustrate his entire plan for ambushing the oncoming Isengarders and so guarding Grimbold’s rear?
For one thing, I am impressed with the wolves being so silent. Perhaps this is what made the difference?


L. Is it imaginable that Gandalf would meet both these disoriented and fleeing commanders, while both going to and coming from Isengard in the midst of the total chaos that characterizes a land under invasion by 10,000 men and orcs?
As Darkstone pointed out, this is just one of the hardly-imaginable things Gandalf does.

M. Did Tolkien succeed in explaining this? How did he get into this odd position in the first place?
Well, if (as you have demonstrated before) this was not a screen for Ugluk's mission, the explanation wasn't effective. Unless it was a complicated mission to ruse Eomer away from the Wold? Nah, this doesn't work either; although funnily enough, it could be that Grima was too effective in keeping Eomer away from Edoras...

N. Since we hear so little of these battles in the main story in The Lord of the Rings, leaving Tolkien to describe them as he chooses, is this essay in fact just a kind of theoretical treatise on how a specific geography might dictate the outcome of military operations?

I wouldn't take it that far.

O. In the Battles of the Fords of Isen, whether assaulting the muster of Isengard or holding the Fords, were the Riders of Rohan their own worst enemy, or was it after all the dwimmer-crafty Saruman with his vile wolf-riders and axe-men?
Well, a trained cavalry was more likely to be found than a trained infantry. It appears that the Rohirrim were the French at Crecy, or Agincourt (I'm sure JRRT would have hated me for this!)


P. Out of all the Unfinished Tales, how much do you like reading this one? Why?
I like it very much. It is straightforward, and introduces three characters we only know the names of (well, we do know a bit about Elfhelm from LotR, but not enough). Tolkien is really better as a storyteller than as a reconciler of previous sketches.


 
 

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