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Friday, June 4, 2010

12th Century Amphibious Assault

After seeing Robin Hood with my sweetie the other day, there was some discussion about the landing craft placing the French troops on English soil. One commenter said this type of ship was not around in the 12th century. I was not too upset by any of this as the movie was meant to be entertaining rather than any actual depiction of historic events. If you have not seen the movie, the boats are reminiscent of WW2 landing craft, LCVP (landing craft, vehicle, personnel) or famously known as the Higgins boat, pictured above. The Higgins boat is a pretty simple device. It is made entirely of plywood (can you imagine approaching the beaches of Normandy or Tarawa in that?), would travel at about 9 knots, had a very shallow draw so as to get in close, could carry about 36 troops, and had a bow ramp so all the troops could quickly disembark onto the beach.

Over 20000 of these were built for use by our military and many variations on the same theme came along, LST (landing ship tank), LSV (landing ship vehicle), landing vehicle tracked (Amphtrack).

As I was saying the boats in Robin Hood resembled Higgins boats in that they all had bow ramps so that the French troops could unload en-mass onto the shore. These particular boats were oar powered. I don't believe they had diesel engines back in the 12th century.

I poked around a little on the web to try and find out exactly what kind of boats were really around in the 12th century. The first thing I found was a thing called a Knight Landing Craft. When you imagine a knight on a horse in full armor, you would have to think that there would have to be a way to deliver the warrior and the horse intact to dry land. Otherwise, the knight and the horse would sink like a stone and quickly drown. Also called "horse transports" these products used to conduct the Fourth Crusade were described as "had specially designed slings to carry their precious cargo; once the ship drew close to shore, a door below the waterline could be opened to allow a fully armed and mounted knight to charge directly into battle — rather like a modern landing craft disgorging a tank." It is unclear from the above description exactly where this sling was located, bow, side or stern, but the idea was to deliver the knight and horse to the shore in one piece so he could charge immediately into battle.

Here's another description I found: "So the fleet came to land, and when they were landed, forth came the knights out of the transports, all mounted; for the transports were built in such fashion that they had doors, which were easily opened, and a bridge was thrust out whereby the knights could come forth to land all mounted." So again there was some kind of a landing ramp designed to deliver mounted knights.

Here is yet another description: "They were big galleys capable of carrying 12-30 horses. The big thirty horse taride of of Charles I of Sicily shipped 108-110 oars. The doors and ramps were at the stern between two sternposts, so the vessels backed onto the beach to unload and load. They were shallow draft: in Villehardouin's account the knights jumped from the transports into waist-deep water." So this version was a stern loader and the knights had to wade in water hopefully no deeper than the waist. I would have to assume they meant the waist of the horse?????

So maybe the Robin Hood landing craft were not so far fetched after all, but I gotta think that the writers of Robin Hood probably thought of the Higgins boat first when they thought of landing troops on the shore. In any case I find this stuff fascinating and I always wonder what it was really like way back in the 12th century. It probably was not a very good time to be alive.

If you care go HERE and HERE to read more.

4 comments:

  1. Good Call. I was bothered by the use of 12th century french landing craft in Robin Hood too. I found John H. Pryor and "The Experience of Crusading" to have some historical context for discharging a mounted knight to the shoreline, but as you pointed out using Higgins style LTV went too far. Continuity is so important in the suspension of disbelief factor. Keep on blogging.

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  2. I keep asking the question "did they row those things all the way across the Channel?".......

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  3. I believe they had slaves that did the rowing. I would have to think that perhaps they rigged some kind of sails as well to help them traverse long distances. Bet the slaves arms were tired.

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  4. it would be a long way to row. they landed near Nottingham. must be at least 250 miles from France. Travelling at 4 knots it would take about 3 days thats without taking wind and tides into account

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