Adonis Diaries

Rainbow over the Levant (fiction, continue 16)

Posted on: October 12, 2008

Part 3: Gergis’ period (1384-1394)

Chapter 11: A navy in the making

The traders got wind of the wishes of the First Emir to purchase a few vessels and scoured the neighboring ports for potential ships for sale.  Two old navy ships were ordered at scrape cost and refurbished for transport of people and produce.  The first refurbished ship was done in the port of Tripoli and did not venture deep in the sea and was restricted to hug the coastal line and trade with the neighboring towns and villages; it was basically used for training and propaganda purposes. The renovation of the second ship was contracted out in Beirut with a more elaborate work and designed to test its potential for trading with Cyprus and further away to the southern coastal part of Turkey.

    The creation of a navy was foreseen to acquire paramount importance in later conflicts among the Levant neighboring foes, so Antoun fortified his coastal towns of deep water and prepared them to receive medium size embarkation boats; the port of Beirut was readied for large merchant and cargo ships.  The next phase was to build construction sites for minor ship repairs and learning of the trade. As better craftsmen were hired medium sized boats were built, more like flat boats meant to carry 40 navy men or a catapult for throwing rocks or an engine for launching multiple long range arrows. Antoun already was planning to tow these flat boats and drop them behind enemy lines because most of the invasions were done along the coastal route.  This far sighted decision was based on cost/benefit calculation too. 

In the previous wars the Levant army had to adopt the retreat strategy to better defensible positions.  In that strategy, the army had to deploy many specialized regiments to evacuate the willing population behind manageable lines of defense. In these cases, the operation was time consuming and very expensive when the war dragged on for months.  A nastier responsibility was how to manage a disgruntled people who had  been evacuated and were restless to go back to their homes.

            Building a navy offered many more alternatives to waging successful and less expensive wars and reduced the constraining time for the evacuees because the invaders had to disperse their forces in order to confront attacking forces from the sea and thus reduced the necessity for large scale evacuations. Another valuable advantage for a navy was the reduction of the size of the standing army:  any means of transport that offered variety and speed for moving regiments to areas that needed quickly a concentration of power was a critical edge over the enemy.

            Many trained ship builders flocked to Beirut when they perceived that the First Emir had plans for continuous job outlets in that industry and consequently, the presence and availability of skilled sea craftsmen encouraged Antoun to negotiate with sea merchants and traders to be partners in bolder investments. This ship building industry rejuvenated many dying industries that were reopened to supply and support the varied necessary demands. Navy soldiers were trained and regimented as a separate fighting force.


 Second expansion

In 1388, the new Sultan of Egypt dispatched a General of his guard as appointed Viceroy of Damascus. The Viceroy Rustom Bey arrived in command of 1,500 fresh cavalrymen with specific instructions from his master:  he had to affirm the hold of the Mameluks’ dynasty throughout Syria and increase the tribute levied on the population who were growing more prosperous and more enterprising, especially with the dangerous free trade and intricate communication means between the Levantine Republic and the surrounding “Wilayats”. Within a week, and after the grandiose celebrations in Damascus welcoming the new chief and his army, the Viceroy decreed an increase of 10% tax on the agricultural produce and 5% on the manufactured textile products in addition to having a monopoly to import cotton from Egypt.

Rustom Bey canceled agreements negotiated with the previous Viceroy of Damascus and reclaimed his rights in the Bekaa Valley.  He appointed new tax collectors from his protégés who were accompanied by ruthless cavalrymen enjoying a percentage of the money collected as their dues.  The cavalry detachment that accompanied Rustom Bey were mostly Cherkessk and from Sunni tribes from nowadays Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and the Caucasus and they were whipped to frenzy for loots and lots of battle actions. At first, the population was ready to pay the difference in taxes but the behavior of the Viceroy’s army sent alarms throughout Syria and the Bekaa Valley.  Skirmishes got widespread and armed bands of frustrated citizens took to the hills and harassed the Mameluks’ mercenaries.

The Viceroy accused Antoun of fomenting troubles and unrest in the Bekaa and threatened the Levant with military punitive attacks if peace was not restored.  A campaign of economic harassment was launched in order to embarrass the leaders of Mount Lebanon into recognition of the new shift in power and then into direct negotiations.  An embargo of agricultural goods from the Bekaa Valley and Syria to Mount Lebanon was ruthlessly enforced in all the main entry points and caravans were searched exhaustively.  Gergis was dispatched to Damascus to negotiate an amicable relationship with the new hot headed Viceroy and returned with a gloomy report that the authority in Damascus was intent on a show of force no matter what. 

The Levant had already raised a standing army of 150 phalanxes and 1500 cavalrymen with an equal number of standby trained soldiers on call in emergency situations.

Antoun feared that the neighboring Viceroys might support the Viceroy of Damascus more forcefully in putting the squeeze on his economy if he delayed any decisive actions and, most probably, would have no choice but to join forces with the Viceroy of Damascus if an open armed conflict was declared.  Since the Viceroy of Damascus would not attempt a military campaign into the Mountain soon enough then war was to take place inside the Viceroy’s territories in the Bekaa.   

A month before the Levantine government forces crossed the chains of mountain into southern Bekaa it had already dispatched four special cores of the army trained to guerilla warfare in order to circumvent the paths that would be taken by the enemy army.  Two cores would harass the rear guard division and supply lines while diverting it furthers North and the other two cores were to steer the advanced division further south to a battle field prepared by the Levantine army.  The Viceroy of Damascus was overjoyed that Antoun finally concurred to his scheme for an open battle which would respond to the oath he gave to his cavalry detachment, and thus failed to ask for any military support from the neighboring Viceroys of Safad and Hama. The two armies met in a plain between Anjar and Machgara.


Battle of Anjar

The sun was peeping from the Eastern Mountain chains and quickly blinding the Levantine army with its glorious shine.  The First Emir galvanized his infantry with a short speech:  “Soldiers of the proud and united Mount Lebanon; I will not denigrate the daring Mameluks’ cavalry; it is brave, well trained and it outnumbers our young cavalry two to one.  As we all know, our present enemy relies on its cavalry to win battles because, unlike our infantry, theirs are mainly mercenaries and little paid compared with a professional army such as ours.  Their infantry is mainly of our own people recruited in Syria and Palestine; they certainly have courage but are not trained properly and are not fighting for a just cause as we are.  We have got to win this battle clear and neat because the stakes are high for the independence of our young nation.  The enemy has to acknowledge our complete reluctance to be subjugated every time a new Sultan comes to power and decides to exercise his new found power through the humiliation of our people as vassals and not worth negotiating with as equals.”

“I am asking you to stand your ground until two o’clock and by night fall I will guarantee you that Rustum Bey will be our prisoner and his cavalry will disperse chased by the strength of the wind of vengeance generated by your courage and your fierceness in holding on to your values and liberty.  Soldiers of the people of Mount Lebanon; your fathers and forefathers have longed for generations to send the emancipating message of their right to freedom to their successive persecutors; now is your chance to let their spirit rest at ease and to bless you as the sons they raised to serve their country and families with honor and bravery.  Long live the people of Mount Lebanon!   Long live its valiant professional army!”

The cavalry of the Viceroy army was larger than the Levant cavalry and its infantry, although more numerous, were not as dedicated or well-trained for sustained frontal attacks.  Outnumbered, the First Emir decided on psychological warfare to neutralize his enemy’s advantages in cavalry.  Unconventionally, he placed his cavalry behind the infantry instead of on the flanks so that the enemy would conjecture that the Levantine army was not sure of the loyalty of its infantry to hold its ground.  This arrangement was also meant to hide a long and wide trench dug out for defensive purposes while the small and long range catapults were located behind the trench.

The infantry of Rustom Bey advanced at a brisk pace and the cavalry of the Levantine army started to retreat behind the trench across makeshift bridges.  Thinking that a general retreat was in progress, the cavalry of Rustom Bey rushed in ahead of the infantry to secure a quick and easy victory.  The Levantine catapults came into action to allow an ordered retreat of the Levantine infantry across the trench. 

The Mameluk’s cavalry was decimated trying to cross a blind ditch guarded by long spikes and archers and they had to retreat to regroup.  Meanwhile, special regiments of archers and light small catapult operators maneuvered closer to the heavy catapult position of the Mameluk’s army and engaged in the destruction of the enemy heavy catapult strongholds.  The Levantine army had adopted the tactical guideline of focusing first on the enemy catapult regiments before seriously engaging the enemy in a decisive battle; Special Forces were trained and equipped to accomplish such hazardous and primordial tasks. 

The Levantine heavy catapult regiment was minor and was used as target baits for the enemy shelling in order to permit the regiments of small catapult and archers to maneuver, guarded by what it takes of phalanxes and cavalry to protect the operation within an adequate range of the enemy’s long range artillery positions. The task of the archer and small catapult regiments was not merely constrained to the initial phase of the battle but used thoroughly as long as the battle is engaged and were supplied with abundance of ammunition.   High shields were planted in front of the archers and catapult operators not so much for protection but purposely to obstruct the view of the battlefield from them; the chief sergeants were the maestros for the targeting activities in tempo and orientation of the projectiles and the operators were solely reliant on the orders and coding gestures of their chief sergeants. Once the enemy catapult positions are out of operation the regiments of archery and small catapult would redeploy and target the thick of the enemy infantry and cavalry concentrations. 

An untrained observer of the battlefield would not notice much change in the enemy’s concentration even after half an hour of shelling but the retreat from the center toward the rear would happen suddenly.  The soldiers in the center would gradually recognize vacuums around them and after some hesitations opt to retreat instead of advancing toward the much farther front lines.  Once most of the enemy center is emptied the Levantine army would sound a temporary disengagement order, the time for the enemy front lines to look around and realize the precariousness of their position as thin shells with no substantial backing. Then the Levantine artillery would concentrate their targeting in the middle to split the half circle in order to clear a wide swath for the cavalry to swiftly enter and encircle the two halves of the enemy lines.

Besides reducing the enemy artillery capabilities, the next critical moment was the timing for splitting the enemy lines to capitalize on the psychological feeling of abandonment among the enemy front lines infantrymen. During most of the engagement the Levantine infantrymen were trained and ordered never to venture deeply into enemy ranks no matter great were the temptations to do so and to hold and fight on the perimeters. The cavalry was an intrinsic part of the infantry and its two main jobs were to ensure the containment of the enemy main force and to engage any outflanking attacks from the enemy cavalry.  

The Levantine army repulsed two other charges to cross the defensive lines and by the time the sun was facing the Mameluk’s army the Levantine infantry re-crossed the trench in ordered fashion and engaged valiantly an enemy in disarray. The Levantine cavalry had outflanked the enemy army in a vise that did not leave much room for the maneuvering of the Mameluk’s cavalry.

By nightfall, the Viceroy was made prisoner and the remnant of his cavalry was retreating in disorder.  The Levantine army had suffered heavy casualties:  three hundred cavalrymen and 1000 infantrymen perished and twice this number were wounded or injured.  Most of these casualties were suffered during the offensive attack on the heavy artillery positions of the enemy as a necessary phase to insure victory. For a small nation with scares resources this was a crushing toll to sustain but it secured peace for many years to come. The Viceroy was spared execution in order not to provide the Sultan of Egypt any additional excuses to organize another military campaign.  For two weeks, the First Emir set up his quarters in the battle field welcoming the populace with their grievances and ordering reparations and executions of the enemy’s perpetrators of crimes and thefts during their tax collection campaigns.  

The Viceroy and all his cavalrymen prisoners were forced to share in the burying efforts of the fallen soldiers of both armies and taking care of the injured; they participated in washing the bodies of the dead, the digging of graves, the burial of the corpses in the ditches and even feeding the injured and cleaning out the makeshift hospital.  The Viceroy then paid war retribution and offered the Levantine government the responsibility of collecting taxes from the Bekaa Valley all the way to the southern end of the Litany River and then was let free to return to Damascus.  The majority of the Syrian prisoners remained behind for another 6 months for war reparation and indoctrination on the new values of the Republic.  The Bekaa Valley was thus the responsibility of the Levant authority although not officially attached to it and not completely within its jurisdiction.

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adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

October 2008
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