The Battle of Arsuf: Success of Medieval Logistics

Michael G. Stroud

If medieval battlefield armies are the soldiers who slash, stab, and charge their enemies, then logistics are the lifeblood that give said soldiers their vitality and vigor to do so.

The Third Crusade of 1189-1192 and more specifically, that of the battle of Arsuf in 1191, exemplified the strategic use of medieval logistics that resulted in battlefield victories for the crusaders. Heeding the call by Pope Gregory VIII (p.1187) to retake Jerusalem from the throes of Islamic armies, the Christian forces of Western Europe under the leadership of Richard I ‘the Lionheart’ (r.1189-1199) of England, Philip II Augustus (c.1165-1223) of France and Frederick I Barbarossa (c.1122-1190), emperor of the Holy Roman Empire set out to do just that. After seeing the early death of Frederick I, who drowned while crossing a river, the eventual taking of the strategically important city of Acre in 1191 from the Muslims and the departure of both the French king and the duke of Austria, Leopold (r.1177-1194) due to a quarrel with the English monarch, Richard assumed overall command of the crusader forces now present in the Holy Land. He studied and learned from the harsh lessons of the disaster at Hattin in 1187 that no crusader force could succeed in the relatively sterile environment of the desert and its accompanying surroundings without a proper supply line and adequate logistics. Recognizing this, Richard set about moving his forces along the coastline, where he ‘placed the supply columns next to the shore where they could be resupplied by the Italian fleet, with …twelve groups of cavalry riding inland, protected by heavy and light infantry on the outside, forming a continuous column.’
The Battle of Arsuf: Success of Medieval Logistics
Schlacht von Arsuf

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The Battle of Arsuf: Success of Medieval Logistics
Richard the Lionheart

Richard made sure during the march out of Acre toward their objective to make sure and rest his heavily laden troops and knights near water sources

Richard made sure during the march out of Acre toward their objective to make sure and rest his heavily laden troops and knights near water sources ‘where the fleet could bring up food and water.’ Saladin, having failed in disrupting the crusader armies relentless advance into the Holy Land through hit-and-run tactics, then tried a massed ambush of up to 20,000 troops in the hope of pushing the Christians back into the Mediterranean. Having borne the brunt of the Muslim ambush while inexorably moving the crusader column onward, crusader knights, upon reaching ‘the protection of the gardens of the city of Arsuf’ executed a second charge (after the first charge cracked the Muslim force), followed closely by a third led by Richard I personally. This final charge across the level field of the local geography was the perfect setting for the full weight of the Christian heavy cavalry to come into play, smashing the Muslim army and driving them back into the local woods. Saladin and his forces lost ‘32 emirs and 7,000 Muslims.’ This careful coordination of seaborne logistics supply by the allied Italian fleet in conjunction with the careful deployment and movement of the crusader army in such a way as to provide both cover and mutual support while on the march. Richard brilliantly marshalled and utilized the medieval resources of the time as in the Italian supply fleet, while carefully maneuvering his army along the coastline to maximize his resupply and refit efforts in the shortest amount of time. Additionally, by purposefully choosing water sources as strategic way points for rest, Richard allowed his army to stay as refreshed as possible in the searing Middle East heat and therefore combat ready and not driven by solely by heat exhaustion or stroke, such as what occurred at Hattin. Richard’s success at Arsuf was only made possible by his learning from the mistakes of others at Hattin and setting up a cohesive and mindful logistics supply plan that allowed for his army to stay as refreshed and supplied as possible in some of the harshest conditions of the time. The devil was very much in the details in the campaign and the Lionheart had done his research and planning well (granted they did not retake Jerusalem, but they had taken numerous cities and broken Saladin’s mystique).
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The Battle of Arsuf: Success of Medieval Logistics

Michael G. Stroud

Michael G. Stroud is a U.S. based Military Historian that has published many military history articles in various mediums from print magazines to academic journals, and military history websites in both the UK and the U.S. He completed his undergrad degree from American Military University, Summa Cum Laude in Military History and is currently pursuing his master’s degree in Military History with the same university. Michael has been an invited guest on various history themed podcasts from the UK and the US and maintains a strong presence on LinkedIn and Twitter where he can be reached and followed at www.linkedin.com/in/michaelgstroud and @StroudMichaelG.
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