In Dogs in warfare and The Dogs of War, a number of examples are given where dogs were used in battle in ancient times. Polyaenus, in 'Stratagems', also gives a clear example (late 7th century BC):
The Cimmerians, a people of great bodily size, made war on Alyattes. He marched against them, and ordered his men to take into battle with them a number of large fierce dogs. When the dogs were released, they fell on the barbarians, as they would on a herd of wild beasts. They injured many of them, so as to disable them from action, and put the others to flight.
The Romans both faced and used dogs in battle. According to Wikipedia, 'The Roman attack dogs were given metal armour covered in razor-sharp spikes, designed to force the enemy out of formation.' Another source states that '… the Roman Army would routinely deploy its own War Dogs, with whole companies composed entirely of dogs'.
For the Middle Ages in Europe, there is much less information. Leaving aside the use of dogs by the conquistatores as it is the Early Modern period and outside Europe, the only citations I've found are in Jared Eglan's Beasts of War, which says
Mastiffs, as well as Great Danes, were used in England during the Middle Ages, where their large size was used to scare horses to throw off their riders or to pounce on knights on horseback, disabling them until their master delivered the final blow.
The same source also says:
The British used dogs when they attacked the Irish and the Irish in turn used Irish Wolfhounds to attack invading Norman knights on horseback.
What is not clear is whether these two references concern groups of dogs, or dogs which accompanied their masters into battle (i.e. the dogs fought individually, not as a group). Also, do these references relate to use in battle or just skirmishes?
That dogs were presented as gifts among nobles, and used for guard duty, hunting, scouting and chasing down fugitives is clear enough from various sources. There are also cases of individuals bringing their dogs to battle (e.g. Sir Piers Legh at Agincourt in 1415), but what I am interested in is groups (or 'companies' as cited above for Romans) of dogs in battle.
Were groups (or 'companies') of dogs used to attack enemy soldiers in battle in the Middle Ages in Europe?
Is it possible to cite any specific battles where this happened?
Or was it more a case of some nobles bringing their dogs into battle and these dogs fighting alongside their masters rather than as part of a group?
Yes. As you noted, trained military dogs in medieval Europe had various roles in attack, defense, and as sidekicks. The centralized training, equipping, and distribution of the dogs shows that they were states' investments and did not just belong to individual nobles.
Animals in the Military asserts about dogs in battle:
"An invasion of Poland around AD 1250 by a coalition of Russians, Tartars, and Lithuanians purportedly included a large number of trained attack dogs."
"The Spaniards began using dogs at least by the 1260s, as King Jaume I of Aragon-Catalonia supplied guard dogs to garrisons of regional castles (Kaunanithy, 185)."
An article apparently by John J. Ensminger, discussing the book Dogs of the Conquest, says:
"… the Spanish Christians had used dogs against the Moors (Varner & Varner, p. xvi)."
"King Henry VIII was said to have sent hundreds of war dogs to the Emperor Charles V of Spain in a war with France, “each garnished with good yron collars” (Lloyd 1948, Weir 2002, p. 33)."
The mentioned invasion of Poland was probably one of the several Mongol invasions of the 1200s. Genghis Khan is reputed to have used war dogs, but I have no good source on this yet.
In warfare, infiltration tactics involve small independent light infantry forces advancing into enemy rear areas, bypassing enemy frontline strongpoints, possibly isolating them for attack by follow-up troops with heavier weapons. Soldiers take the initiative to identify enemy weak points and choose their own routes, targets, moments and methods of attack this requires a high degree of skill and training, and can be supplemented by special equipment and weaponry to give them more local combat options.
Forms of these infantry tactics were used by skirmishers and irregulars dating back to classical antiquity, but only as a defensive or secondary tactic decisive battlefield victories were achieved by shock combat tactics with heavy infantry or heavy cavalry, typically charging en masse against the primary force of the opponent. By the time of early modern warfare, defensive firepower made this tactic increasingly costly. When trench warfare developed to its height in World War I, most such attacks were complete failures. Raiding by small groups of experienced soldiers, using stealth and cover was commonly employed and often successful, but these could not achieve decisive victory.
Infiltration tactics developed slowly through World War I and early World War II, partially as a way of turning these harassing tactics into a decisive offensive doctrine. At first, only special units were trained in these tactics, typified by German Stoßtruppen (storm troops). By the end of World War II, almost all regular ground forces of the major powers were trained and equipped to employ forms of infiltration tactics, though some specialize in this, such as commandos, long-range reconnaissance patrols, US Army Rangers, airborne and other special forces, and forces employing irregular warfare.
While a specialist tactic during World War I, infiltration tactics are now regularly fully integrated as standard part of the modern maneuver warfare, down to basic fire and movement at the squad and section level, so the term has little distinct meaning today. Infiltration tactics may not be standard in modern combat where training is limited, such as for militia or rushed conscript units, or in desperate attacks where an immediate victory is required. Examples are German Volksgrenadier formations at the end of World War II, and Japanese banzai attacks of the same period.
Dogs of the Conquistadors
The Spaniards began using dogs at least by the 1260s, as King Jaume I of Aragon-Catalonia supplied guard dogs to garrisons of regional castles.
When Christopher Columbus returned to the New World in 1493, Don Juan Rodriguez de Fonseca, in charge of supplying the expedition, included 20 mastiffs and greyhounds as weapons. The Spanish destroyed the Guanches of the Canary Islands by use of war dogs. Later the dogs fought the Moors. The mastiffs, which could weigh as much as 250 pounds and stand three feet high at the shoulder, were brute attackers, while the greyhounds were speedy and made lightning-quick strikes, often trying to disembowel their opponent. In May 1494 the Jamaican natives did not look friendly, so Columbus ordered an attack. One war dog caused absolute terror, so Columbus in his journal wrote that one dog was worth 10 soldiers against Indians. During the Haiti campaign, opposed by a huge native force, all 20 dogs fought at the Battle of Vega Real in March 1495. Alonso de Ojeda, who had fought with them against the Moors, commanded the dogs. He released the dogs shouting, “Tomalos!” (basically, “Sic ’em!”). An observer said that in one hour, each dog had torn apart at least a hundred natives. The island was taken largely by terror of the dogs. Later conquistadores including Ponce de Leon, Balboa, Velasquez, Cortes, De Soto, Toledo, Coronado, and Pizarro all used war dogs.
Some Spaniards started a cruel practice called “la monteria infernal” (“the hellish hunting”) or “dogging,” setting the dogs on the chiefs or other important people in tribes. When their leaders were torn to shreds, the tribes often surrendered. To increase the ferocity of attacks, some conquistadores fed the dogs on the flesh of natives. One Portuguese fellow “had the quarters of Indians hanging on a porch to feed his dogs with.” The dog Amigo helped in the conquest of Mexico. Bruto, belonging to Hernando de Soto, assisted in the conquest of Florida. When Bruto died, the Spaniards kept it secret, because the natives feared him so much.
A dog named Mohama gained a soldier’s share of the booty for fighting courageously at Granada. Perhaps recognizing the Spanish love for war dogs, in 1518, King Henry VIII of England sent 400 war mastiffs “garnished with good yron collers” (spiked collars) to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V of Spain. Apparently one of Charles’s foes heard of this acquisition and started collecting war dogs of his own. At the siege of Valencia, the iron-clad mastiffs sent the newly trained French dogs fleeing with their tails between their legs.
The Spanish sent war dogs to their New World campaigns to help conquer much of South and Central America. Just as the invaders’ horses terrified the natives, so did the dogs, because the likes of these creatures had never been seen. The Aztec king, Montezuma, was told that the Spanish dogs were huge, “spotted like ocelots, with ears doubled over, great hanging jowls, blazing yellow eyes, gaunt stomachs, and flanks with ribs showing.” They “went about panting, tongues hanging out. Their barks astounded the Mexicans since, though they had their little dogs, they did not bark they merely yowled.” A mastiff belonging to Francisco de Lugo barked most of the night, causing the local people to ask if the beast was a lion. They were told that the dogs would kill anyone who annoyed the Spaniards. The dogs often preceded the horsemen in column, panting with “foam dripping from their mouths.”
A German explorer accompanied the Spaniards to Colombia and saw a brigade of mastiffs used to scout out ambushes by the Chibchas Indians. These animals wore quilted armor to protect them from arrows, and they learned to kill the natives by tearing out their throats. The Indians were terrified of these dogs.
An account in 1553 says Pizarro’s dogs were “so fierce that in two bites with their cruel teeth they laid open their victims to the entrails.”
The dogs the Spaniards brought were mostly war dogs. These dogs were strong and ferocious, accompanying their owners in battles. They were usually wearing armor to protect them from enemies and were incredibly valued.
The Spaniards depended so much on their war dogs that they trained them to kill. They often had them fast days before a battle to make them more lethal against their enemies. They were also used as a method of torture against Americans.
The Aztec natives were familiar with certain breeds of dogs, but they were generally small and harmless species, without much fur. The species known by these natives were an antecedent of the modern chihuahua and the Xoloitzcuintle. These dogs were raised as pets and also as food and source of protein.
Unlike these more timid endogenous breeds, European dogs were large and aggressive. The Aztecs had dogs. They were small, hairless, timid creatures, related to the modern Chihuahua, which were reared not as pets but as a food source. Accordingly when the Aztecs first met the Spanish war dogs – wolfhounds, greyhounds, lurchers, pit bulls and gigantic mastiffs similar to modern Rottweilers, they had absolutely no idea what they were dealing with. Indeed they did not think these animals were dogs at all. They thought they might be some species of dragon – an impression compounded by the fact that the Spanish dogs were armored in chainmail and steel plate like their masters and were thus almost invulnerable to stone weapons. Fasted before battle so they were in a state of voracious, slavering hunger, trained to fight and kill with the utmost ferocity, these terrifying animals already relished human flesh having been used repeatedly in acts of genocide against the Indians of Hispaniola and Cuba. Unleashed in snarling, baying packs, their tongues lolling, drool dripping from their fangs and sparks of fire seeming – in the imagination of the victims – to flash from their eyes, they tore into the Aztec front lines with devastating effect, disemboweling men, ripping out their throats, feasting on their soft, unarmored bodies. “They have flat ears and are spotted like ocelots,” reported one Aztec eyewitness of the Spanish war dogs. “They have great dragging jowls and fangs like daggers and blazing eyes of burning yellow that flash fire and shoot off sparks. Their bellies are gaunt, their flanks long and lean with the ribs showing. They are tireless and very powerful. They bound here and there, panting, their tongues dripping venom.”
Clad in metal armor and chains, the natives did not believe that these creatures were dogs and regarded them as beasts. These attack dogs, often wearing their own armor, were the common European shock and awe tactic of the period. The first documented New World use of these canine swat teams occurred in 1495 when Bartholomew Columbus, Chris’s brother, used 20 mastiffs in a battle waged at Santa Maris el Antigua, Darien with his brother employing the same approach a year later. These dogs were trained to pursue, disembowel and dismember humans and to this purpose, enjoyed a human diet in the Americas. The Spanish reveled in holding human hunts called “la Monteria infernal “where much sport was made of chasing and killing the local men, women and children. The noted Spanish apologist Bartolme de La Casas has left us numerous accounts of the exploits of these hounds from hell and it is easy to understand why these horrific memes still prevail in the cultures of Latin America. The names of many of these dogs so esteemed by the Spaniards still live on and here are but a few:
Bercerruillo the terror of Borinquen, until he was fallen by 50 arrows, received a salary one and a half times that of an archer from his owner Ponce de Leon.
Leoncillo (Little Lion), Bercerruillo’s son, was Balboa’s warrior, earned over 500 gold pesos in booty during his many campaigns, and he was the first Western dog to see the Pacific. When ordered to catch a native he would grab the man’s arm in his mouth. If the man came along quietly, they walked slowly to Balboa. If there was any resistance, the dog ripped him apart.
Bruto, De Soto’s champion, received 20 slaves as spoils before his career ended.
10 of the oddest military encounters recorded in history
While we have previously talked about cryptic underground temples and magnificently mysterious cathedrals, the military history side of affairs also has its fair share of baffling, confusing and even unresolved incidents. So, without further ado, let us take a gander at ten of the most bizarre and odd military encounters (including both wars and battles) ever recorded in the history of mankind.
1) The ‘Otherworldly Intervention’ In The Third Mithridatic War –
Fought in the time period of 73–63 BC, the Third Mithridatic War was the last and longest of three Mithridatic Wars fought between the allied forces of Mithridates VI of Pontus and the Roman Republic. However, during its initial days, one of the major battles was supposedly stopped by the awesome presence of a meteor. The odd conflict in question here pitched the Roman general (and senator) Lucius Licinius Lucullus and his 32,000 soldiers directly against the supposedly larger arrayed forces of Mithridates in Phrygia. In spite of the numerical disadvantage, Lucullus decided to engage the enemy, in a bid to drive a tactical outcome that would put the Pontic forces on the defensive.
But as the two enormous lines of soldiers were advancing to meet each other, they were witness to a natural phenomenon on a grand scale. According to Plutarch, the sky suddenly split apart, and a large ‘silvery-hot’ meteor resembling a gigantic hogshead bombarded the battleground between the two armies. Suffice it to say, the bizarre yet impressive sight frightened most of the innumerable men present in the field. Consequently, both of the rattled forces promptly withdrew from the battle to fight another day, thus resulting in a draw without a single casualty. As for the long drawn war itself, the Romans ultimately emerged victorious after Pompey the Great succeeded Lucullus as the commanding general.
2) The Blind Charge at the Battle of Crecy –
John of Bohemia, being born into the Luxembourg dynasty in 1296 AD, always had an affinity for the French court. However, by 1311 AD, he was crowned the King of distant Bohemia, after marrying into the ruling Přemyslid dynasty. Unfortunately, John also went blind after suffering from a genetic disease while crusading in Lithuania in 1336 AD. In spite of his condition, he managed to have a firm grip on his ruling lands, while being also known for his warrior prowess. So, when the French king Philip VI called on his Luxembourgian ally, instead of shirking away, John brought forth his son Charles (who had just been elected King of Germany), and together they participated in the momentous Battle of Crecy in 1346 AD, against the English forces.
And amid numerous debates, one episode of bravery stands out from the defeated French perspective. This incident relates to how blind John tethered his horse with a group of other Bohemian knights. This ‘blind yet bound’ body of armored horsemen decided to boisterously charge into the English ranks but to no avail. While some records talk about John wildly swinging his sword around the Prince of Wales, the blind king must have ultimately met a gruesome death – as was evidenced by the examination of his battered body. According to later assessments, the King of Bohemia suffered a stab injury to his eye socket (with the pointed weapon being pushed right into his skull) and a stab injury to his chest (that probably penetrated his vital organs). His right hand was also found to be cut off, presumably to steal his precious rings and other kingly items.
3) Battle of Zappolino –
Fought in November 1325, Battle of Zappolino was probably the only large scale engagement during the so-called War of the Oaken Bucket between the forces of the Italian towns of Bologna and Modena. As the name of the conflict suggests, the ‘war’ was instigated when soldiers from Modena inconspicuously made their way into Bologna, just to steal a bucket from the city’s main well. Already being part of the larger conflicts between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, the Bolognese (on the side of the Guelphs) didn’t take the seemingly innocuous incident too kindly and were further disrespected when the Modena forces (on the side of the Ghibellines) refused to hand over the bucket.
This resulted in the declaration of war by the Bolognese – which was followed up by the invasion force consisting of around 30,000 disparately-armed foot soldiers and aided by around 2,000 Cavaliers. They marched on to the city of Modena, which in turn was defended by only 5,000 infantrymen and 2,000 cavalry forces. Unfortunately for the Bolognese, their numerically superior forces were routed within just 2 hours of the battle – and the Modena soldiers supposedly chased them all the way to Bologna, while destroying many castles in their path. And in some versions of the events, they even brandished the still ‘unconquered’ bucket as a spoil of war in front of the insulted Bologonese officials. In any case, the glorious bucket is currently displayed in the main bell tower of the city of Modena (pictured above).
4) Combat of the Thirty –
The Combat of the Thirty (or Combat des Trente) was an odd episode in the Breton War of Succession that took place on March 26, 1351 AD. Fought at a pre-arranged battlefield in Brittany, the encounter pitched two groups consisting of 30 champions and knights against each other, with one side representing the King of France, and the other side representing the King of England. The challenged was originally issued forth by Jean de Beaumanoir, a captain under the French banner. As befitting of knights, both the French and English fought for a long stretch of time – so much so that even a crowd gathered to watch the bloody contest.
These spectators were even served refreshments, while the knights fought on gallantly. And after several hours of fighting – which caused deaths of four French and two English knights, the participants called for a time-out. During this short time, the warriors were given medical attention and food. And after the contest was resumed, the English leader Bemborough was wounded and then killed by his French counterpart. At this critical juncture, the English men decided to form a tight, defensive formation that blunted various French attacks. Finally, a squire named Guillaume de Montauban mounted his horse and charged at the English lines. This desperate move shattered the enemy will and with seven of their champions being gravely injured, the English finally surrendered. So the French ‘team’ emerged victorious in the macabre contest, with the final tally corresponding to 9 deaths on the English side and 6 deaths on the French. The remaining prisoners were supposedly well treated and released on payment of a small ransom.
5) Battle of Cajamarca –
The Battle of Cajamarca (taking place on November 16, 1532 AD) is sometimes counted among one of those victories for the Spaniards won against overwhelming odds. The momentous military encounter in itself pitched around 168 conquistadors (armed with only 12 arquebuses and 4 cannons) under Francesco Pizarro’s command, against 3,000 to 8,000 lightly armed guards of the Inca Emperor Atahualpa. However, beyond numbers, the battle is notable for the fact that was the very first time that most Incas were witness to the destructive and ‘noisy’ power of gunpowder.
The incident started with the Spaniards arriving and themselves concealing themselves within the deserted buildings close to the great plaza of Cajamarca. It is said that some of the Spanish soldiers, knowing about their gravely outnumbered status, even urinated in their breeches out of sheer fear. In any case, a procession of around seven-thousand Incas accompanying Atahualpa arrived later and made their way safely into the town’s square. According to accounts, they were mostly attendants of the emperor who donned their richly attired clothes and ceremonial arms of small axes and lassos. The two party leaders even met with each other. But things apparently turned sour after the Spaniards tried to convince Atahualpa of their superior religion, and even insultingly (though possibly unintentionally) poured out the ceremonial chicha offered to them in a golden cup.
The confusion in semantics further aggravated the Inca emperor, who supposedly yelled ‘if you disrespect me, I will also disrespect you’. Spurred by this seemingly furious tone, the shaken conquistadors fell back to their positions and opened fire at the vulnerable mass of Incas. This cacophonous effect shocked the lightly-armed attendants who were not familiar with gunpowder. The Spanish forces took advantage of their state of bewilderment and charged through the Inca ranks with only 62 horsemen. With their bells ringing, accompanied by the sound of boisterous gunfire, the cavalry rushed forth and surrounded Atahualpa’s retinue. After maiming and killing many of the emperor’s personal attendants, Pizarro finally captured the Inca ruler from his litter, and thus started his conquest of an empire stretching over 2 million sq km – with just around two hundred soldiers. As for the Battle of Cajamarca itself, the Inca side suffered over 2,000 casualties, while the Spanish forces probably had less than five injuries (or deaths).
6) War of Jenkins’ Ear –
The odd name of this war fought from 1739 to 1748 AD, was coined by Thomas Carlyle after 110 years of the conflict. The surname ‘Jenkins’ here refers to one Britisher – Robert Jenkins, who was both a captain of a merchant ship and an acknowledged smuggler. And according to the sequence of events, his ship was boarded by Spanish guards in 1731 AD, and he was subsequently punished by his ear being cut off. This severed ear was preserved and even displayed in front of the British Parliament as a testimony – but was met with lukewarm response from the Lords.
However, the gimmick was once again used after eight long years, when the opposition parties and the British South Sea Company wanted to instigate a full blown war with Spain. Such a ‘spurring’ action obviously had its economic reasons, with the primary one being directly related to increasing the trading opportunities of Britain in the Caribbean region. Moreover, the British companies also wanted to pressurize Spanish officials to keep up their asiento contract, which entailed the permission to sell slaves in Spanish America. Unfortunately, for the Britain, their raised forces (that also included for the first time a regiment of colonial American troops) suffered huge losses in the North American theater, which finally culminated in the reversal of their lucrative asiento rights.
7) The Anglo-Zanzibar War –
Fought between the United Kingdom and the Zanzibar Sultanate on 27 August 1896, the Anglo-Zanzibar War lasted for 40 minutes. That’s right! Easily the shortest war in the history of mankind, the conflict started when the Britain accumulated around 150 sailors along with 900 Zanzibaris (supported by a paltry three cruisers and two gunboats) in the harbor of the Zanzibar Town. This action was started after the expiration of an ultimatum that stated the removal of the newly crowned ruler of Zanzibar Sultanate, in favor of a British-choice candidate. On the other side, the Zanzibar Sultanate had around 2,800 soldiers (mostly picked from the civilians) defending their royal palace, while being supported by a few machines guns, artillery pieces, a shore battery, and the royal yacht HHS Glasgow.
However, in spite of having lesser numbers, the British side started the engagement by directly bombarding the palace. Within two minutes, the expansive building caught fire, which befuddled the enemy artillery units – thus rendering them ineffective during the fight. This was followed by a naval action that successfully managed to destroy the royal yacht HHS Glasgow (along with two other boats). Finally, the flag atop the palace was shot down, and a ceasefire was declared just after 40 minutes of engagement. As for results, the Zanzibar Sultanate suffered around 500 casualties, while the British forces sustained only a single injury while the new sultan fled the country and made his way to German East Africa.
8) War of the Stray Dog –
Often called the ‘Incident at Petrich’, the War of the Stray Dog was a part of the ongoing Greek–Bulgarian crisis in 1925. The incident in question here pertained to a tragic confusion when Bulgarian forces shot and killed a Greek soldier, who was later found to have crossed into the enemy territory while chasing his pet dog. In response, the Greek officials demanded compensation from the Bulgarians. But unfortunately, tensions were already high between the two nations since the start of the 20th century, with their disputes (and even guerrilla warfare) arising from the possession of Macedonia and Western Thrace. Such a long-standing animosity also resulted in two full-scale wars – the Second Balkan War (1913) and First World War battles on the Macedonian front 1916–18.
Suffice it to say, the Bulgarians refused to pay any form of compensation for their actions. Spurred by these dismissive talks, the Greek forces launched a punitive invasion into the town of Petrich, to punish the soldiers responsible for the murder. However, on the Bulgarian side, locals rushed to form armed militias that could defend their homes from the Greek incursion. And, by the time League of Nations had intervened, 50 people had already been killed in the unfortunate military encounter. Later Greece had to pay a ‘reverse’ compensation of around $45,000 for their brutal actions, with their unsuccessful appeal being once again dismissed at the League of Nations.
9) Battle of Los Angeles –
Feb. 25, 1942. Retouched version of searchlight photo after work by Los Angeles Times artists. The bottom part of the image was painted black. The searchlights were lightened with white paint. This version is a copy negative made at an unknown date from retouched print. The negative is now in the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive at UCLA.
The Battle of Los Angeles, also known as The Great Los Angeles Air Raid, is a baffling episode from Second World War which occurred between late 24 February to early 25 February 1942, over the city of Los Angeles, California – three months after the unfortunate incident at Pearl Harbor. According to contemporary sources, after allegedly spotting 25 aircraft in the sky, air-raid sirens were sounded and blackouts were ordered. The 37th Coast Artillery Brigade then began firing at these ‘reported’ aircraft hovering in the sky. The Americans fired from their .50 caliber machine guns and also used 12.8-pound anti-aircraft shells, with the entire engagement costing them over 1,400 shells. In fact, the retaliation was so massive in scale that the ensuing chaos inadvertently resulted in 5 civilian deaths – with two of the fatalities resulting from heart attacks brought on by the fury and sounds of explosions.
Intriguingly enough, after just a few hours of the alleged raid, a press conference was held by Frank Knox, Secretary of the Navy – and he dismissed the entire incident as a false alarm due to anxiety and ‘war nerves’. A contemporary editorial in the Long Beach Independent alluded to the baffling nature of the incident –
There is a mysterious reticence about the whole affair and it appears that some form of censorship is trying to halt discussion on the matter.
Later on, numerous conspiracy theories were concocted, with some hinting at the Japanese capability to launch aircraft raids from their offshore submarines, while others alluding to a secret Japanese base in Mexico. In 1983, the Office of Air Force History put forth their conclusion that the unidentified objects sighted in the sky were meteorological balloons. And on a more sensational scale, the image published in the Los Angeles Times on February 26, 1942 (see above) has been pointed out by modern-day UFOlogists as alleged evidence of an extraterrestrial interference in the episode.
10) Defense of Castle Itter –
‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend’ – an old Indian proverb originating from 4th century BC, was proven to be true by a few German soldiers of the Wehrmacht who had enough of their Waffen SS brethren’s shenanigans. After 5 days Hitler committed suicide, the veteran 17th Waffen-SS Panzer Grenadier Division continued with their bloody plans to recapture an Austrian castle called Schloss Itter in the Tyrol. This castle was used as a special prison for enemy VIPs, and as such imprisoned some famous French personalities, including former prime ministers Édouard Daladier and Paul Reynaud.
The SS division arrived on the morning of May 5, 1945, with around 150 men to retake the Castle Itter and execute its prisoners But they were bravely met by a rag-tag defensive force comprising 14 soldiers from the US Army (aided by one Sherman tank), the newly-armed prisoners themselves, and surprisingly 10 German soldiers from the Wehrmacht. In the ensuing battle, the Sherman tank was used as a makeshift machine-gun outpost but was soon destroyed by an 88 mm gun. And, within just a few hours, the defenders almost ran out of ammunition for their MP-40s. So a desperate ploy was hatched which involved the tennis legend Jean Borotra (who was then a high-profile prisoner inside the castle) vaulting over the castle walls, gathering information about the German positions, and then sprinting across to the proximate town for calling reinforcements. The desperate tactic seemingly succeeded with reinforcements arriving by 4 pm in the evening who then defeated the SS forces and took over 100 prisoners from their ranks.
The First Crusade (1095-1102) was a military campaign by western European forces to recapture the city of Jerusalem and the Holy Land from Muslim control. Conceived by Pope Urban II following an appeal from the Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos, the Crusade was a success with Christian forces taking control of Jerusalem on 15 July 1099.
Around 60,000 soldiers and at least half again of non-combatants were involved in the First Crusade which set off on their quest in 1095. After campaigns in Asia Minor and the Middle East, great cities such as Nicaea and Antioch were recaptured, and then the real objective, Jerusalem itself. Many more crusades would follow, the objectives would widen, as would the field of conflict, so that even Constantinople would come under attack in subsequent campaigns.
Causes of the First Crusade
The first and most important action to spark off the fuse which would eventually burn down to the explosion of the First Crusade was the rise of the Muslim Seljuks, a Turkish tribe of the steppe. The Seljuks won significant victories in Asia Minor against Byzantine armies, notably at the Battle of Manzikert in ancient Armenia in August 1071. As a consequence, they gained control of such great cities as Edessa and Antioch and, c. 1078, the Seljuks created the Sultanate of Rum with their capital at Nicaea in Bithynia in northwest Asia Minor. By 1087 they had taken control of Jerusalem.
The Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081-1118) realised the Seljuk expansion into the Holy Land was a chance to gain the help of western armies in his battle to control Asia Minor. Consequently, Alexios appealed to the west for soldiers in March 1095. The appeal was sent to the Pope Urban II (r. 1088-1099) who proved remarkably responsive, as did thousands of European knights.
Pope Urban II had already sent troops to help the Byzantines in 1091 against the Pecheneg steppe nomads who were invading the northern Danube area of the empire. He was again disposed to assistance for various reasons. A crusade to bring the Holy Land back under Christian control was an end in itself - what better way to protect such important sites as the tomb of Jesus Christ, the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Christians living there or visiting on pilgrimage also required protection. In addition, there were very useful additional benefits.
A crusade would increase the prestige of the papacy, as it led a combined western army, and consolidate its position in Italy itself, having experienced serious threats from the Holy Roman Emperors in the previous century which had even forced the popes to relocate away from Rome. Urban II also hoped to make himself head of a united Western (Catholic) and Eastern (Orthodox) Christian church, above the Patriarch of Constantinople. The two churches had been split since 1054 over disagreements about doctrine and liturgical practices. In case anyone was concerned, a campaign of violence could be justified by references to particular passages of the Bible and emphasising this was a fight for liberation, not attack, and that the objectives were just and righteous ones.
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On 27 November 1095, Urban II called for a crusade in a speech during the Council of Clermont, France. The message, known as the Indulgence and aimed specifically at knights, was loud and clear: those who defended Christendom would be embarking on a pilgrimage, all their sins would be washed away, and their souls would reap untold rewards in the next life. Urban II then embarked on a preaching tour in France during 1095-6 to recruit crusaders, where his message was spiced up with exaggerated tales of how, at that very moment, Christian monuments were being defiled and Christian believers persecuted and tortured with impunity. Embassies and letters were dispatched to all parts of Christendom. Major churches such as those at Limoges, Angers, and Tours acted as recruitment centres, as did many rural churches and especially the monasteries. The call to “take the cross” - where people swore an oath to become a crusader and then wore a cross on their shoulder to proclaim their obligation - was an amazing success. Across Europe warriors, stirred by notions of religious fervour, personal salvation, pilgrimage, adventure and a desire for material wealth, gathered throughout 1096, ready to embark for Jerusalem. The departure date was set for 15 August of that year. Around 60,000 crusaders including some 6,000 knights would be involved in the first waves.
The Muslim Enemy
The Seljuk Muslims who had taken control of most of Asia Minor and northern Syria in the latter decades of the 11th century were suffering their own particular problems even before the crusaders arrived. In conflict with their bitter rivals, the Shiite Fatimids, based in Egypt, the Sunni Seljuk Muslims had wrestled Jerusalem from them. However, a serious blow to Seljuk ambitions came with the death of the powerful Seljuk Sultan Malikshah in 1092 which produced a scramble for power by various local lords with none gaining supremacy. Further, the Seljuk base was in Baghdad, a long way from the battles which would occur throughout the First Crusade, and so there was little centralised support or management of the war. Added to this, the Shiite Muslims managed to recapture control of Jerusalem from the Seljuks just a few months before the Crusaders arrived on the scene. Both groups of Muslims were most likely completely unaware of the religious nature of the Crusader's quest and that they were any different from usual Byzantine raiding parties. The noble knights from the west, though, were not interested in harassing an enemy and carrying off portable riches, they were in the Levant for permanent conquest.
Peter the Hermit & the 'People's Crusade'
Ironically, and despite the Pope's deliberate intentions to appeal specifically to knights (which is what Alexios had asked for), a whole lot of other people were bitten by the crusading bug. The first major group was the people's army, a mixed group of poor and petty knights. They were led by the preacher Peter the Hermit and the knight Walter the Penniless (Sansavoir). Ill-equipped and by necessity driven to foraging as they crossed Europe, they made few friends along the way. Peter had earlier been on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land where he had been captured by Muslims and tortured, now was his chance for revenge.
Meanwhile, a second group of crusaders, equally humble and ill-disciplined, made its way down the Rhine. Led by Count Emicho of Leningen, the group infamously turned their religious hatred to Jews in Speyer, Mainz, Trier, and Cologne. Both groups of crusaders, sometimes referred to as the 'People's Crusade' (despite actually containing some knights), arrived in Constantinople in the early summer of 1096 with the aim of then moving on to Jerusalem to remove the Seljuks. These first-comers are described by Anna Komnena (1083-1153), historian and daughter of the Byzantine emperor, in her Alexiad:
And those Frankish soldiers were accompanied by an unarmed host more numerous than the sand or the stars, carrying palms and crosses on their shoulders women and children, too, come away from their countries. (Gregory, 296)
They were promptly shipped by Alexios to Asia Minor, where, ignoring the Byzantine's advice, they were ambushed and wiped out near Nicaea by a Seljuk army led by Kilij Arslan I on 21 October 1096. This was not what Alexios or Pope Urban II had had in mind when they started off the crusade movement.
The Fall of Antioch
The second wave of crusaders, this time composed of more gentlemanly and knights and professional warriors, arrived in Constantinople in the autumn and winter of 1096. The second batch was not much of an improvement as far as the Byzantine emperor was concerned as it included amongst its leaders an old enemy, the Norman Bohemund of Taranto. He and his father, Robert Guiscard (the “Crafty”), the Duke of Apulia, had attacked Byzantine Greece between 1081 and 1084. In 1097 Bohemund and his knights arrived in Constantinople and initially, things went well with the Norman swearing allegiance to the emperor along with other Crusader leaders such as Godfrey of Bouillon, the Duke of Lower Lorraine, and Raymond IV (aka Raymond de Saint-Gilles), Count of Toulouse. There were many more nobles besides, and with each commanding their own contingent of knights, not to mention the practical problems of language barriers, it was a minor miracle the force achieved anything at all. Their success would surprise everyone.
Alexios used the crusaders well, despite the rape and pillage perpetrated by the less pious members of the western armies which were causing chaos as they crossed Europe and the Empire's territory. The Normans were keen to defeat the Seljuks and establish some new kingdoms of their own. Alexios may well have gone along with this plan as such kingdoms might prove a useful buffer on the Empire's border. With a mixed force of crusaders, Alexios' army, commanded by the Byzantine general Tatikios, thus managed to recapture Nicaea in June 1097, although the Seljuks had, in reality, preferred to abandon it and fight another day. Next, they swept on over the Anatolian plain and won a great victory at Dorylaion on 1 July 1097.
The crusader-Byzantine army then split up in September 1097, with one army moving on to Edessa further to the east and another into Cilicia to the south-east. The main body headed for Antioch in Syria, the key to the Euphrates frontier. The great city was one of the five patriarchal seats of the Christian church, once home to Saint Paul and Peter, and probable birthplace of Saint Luke. It would be a fine propaganda coup to get it back again.
Although well-fortified and too big to fully encircle, Antioch was indeed the next big crusader capture on 3 June 1098 after an arduous 8-month siege where the attackers themselves came under siege from a Muslim force from Mosul. The Crusaders also suffered from plague, famine, and desertions. Unfortunately for Alexios, on his way to support the siege of the city he had met refugees from the area who wrongly informed him that the Crusaders were on the brink of defeat to a huge Muslim army and so the emperor returned home. Bohemund was not best pleased to find out his army had been abandoned by the Byzantines, even if he did capture the city anyway and defeat a relief force. The Norman decided to renege on his vow to return all captured territory to the Emperor and kept the city for himself. The relations were thus irrevocably soured between the two leaders.
The Capture of Jerusalem
In December 1098 the crusader army marched onwards to Jerusalem, capturing several Syrian port cities on their way. They arrived, finally, at their ultimate destination on 7 June 1099. Of the vast army that had left Europe there were now only around 1,300 knights and some 12,500 infantry to achieve what was supposed to be the primary goal of the Crusade.
Protected by massive walls and a combination of moat and precipices, Jerusalem was going to be a tough military nut to crack. Fortunately, a number of Genoese ships arrived at just the right moment with timber, which was used to make two siege towers, catapults, and a battering ram. Despite these weapons, the defenders resisted the siege, although the Muslim garrison was remarkably reluctant to break out and make raids on the besiegers, perhaps being content to sit and await the promised relief from Egypt. Then, in mid-July, Godfrey of Bouillon decided to attack what he thought looked like a weaker section of the wall. Setting up their siege tower under the cover of darkness and filling a portion of the moat, the Crusaders managed to get in touching distance of the walls. With Godfrey leading from the front, the attackers scaled the defences and found themselves inside the city on 15 July 1099.
A mass slaughter of Muslims and Jews followed, although figures of 10,000 or even 75,000 killed are very likely an exaggeration. A contemporary Muslim source (Ibn al-Arabi) puts the figure at 3,000 of the city's probable 30,000 residents. Within a month, a large Egyptian army arrived to take back the city, but they were defeated at Ascalon. Jerusalem, for the time being at least, was back in Christian hands Godfrey of Bouillon, the hero of the siege, was made the king of Jerusalem. Back in Italy, Pope Urban II had died on 29 July 1099 without knowing the success of his crusade. For some historians, Ascalon marks the end of the First Crusade.
Having accomplished their mission, many crusaders now returned to Europe, some with riches, a few with holy relics, but most rather worse for wear after years of hard battles and scant reward. A fresh wave of crusaders, though, arrived in Constantinople in 1100, and they were organised by Raymond of Toulouse. On 17 May 1101 Caesarea was captured on 26 May Acre fell too. Ominously, though, for future crusades, the Muslims were becoming more familiar with western battle tactics and weapons. In September 1101 a crusader army of Lombard, French, and German knights was defeated by the Seljuks. Things were only going to get more difficult for western armies over the next two centuries of warfare.
Meanwhile, Alexios had not given up on Antioch, and he sent a force to attack the city or at the very least isolate it from the surrounding Crusader-held territories. Bohemund had left, though, and returning to Italy, he convinced Pope Paschall II (r. 1060-1118) and the French king Philip I (r. 1060-1108) that the real threat to the Christian world was the Byzantines. Their treacherous emperor and wayward church had to be eliminated, and so an invasion of Byzantium, the precise location being Albania, was launched in 1107. It failed, largely because Alexios mobilised his best forces to meet them, and the Pope abandoned his support of the campaign. As a result, Bohemund was forced to accept subservience to the Byzantine emperor, who let him rule Antioch in Alexios' name. Thus, the pattern was set for a carving up of captured territories.
Assessment: Achievements & Failures
The First Crusade was successful in that Jerusalem was recaptured, but to ensure the Holy City stayed in Christian hands, it was necessary that various western settlements were established in the Levant (collectively known as the Crusader States, the Latin East or Outremer). Orders of knights were created, too, for their better defence. Clearly, a steady supply of new crusaders would be needed in the coming decades and a wave of taxes to fund them. Initially, there were massacres of local populations, but the westerners soon realised that to hold on to their gains they needed the support of the extraordinarily diverse local populations. Consequently, there grew a toleration of non-Christian religions, albeit with some restrictions.
Despite the continued recruitment drive in Europe and attempts to create permanent 'colonies' and kingdoms, it proved impossible to hold on to the gains of the First Crusade, and more campaigns were required to recapture such cities as Edessa and Jerusalem itself after its fall again in 1187. There would be eight official crusades and several other unofficial ones throughout the 12th and 13th centuries, which all met with more failure than success.
There were unforeseen or negative consequences to the First Crusade, notably the rupture in western-Byzantine relations and the Byzantines horror at unruly groups of warriors causing havoc in their territory. Outbreaks of fighting between crusaders and Byzantine forces were common, and the mistrust and suspicion of their intentions grew. It was a troublesome relationship that only got worse, and the ill-feeling and mutual distrust between east and west would rumble on and culminate in the sacking of Constantinople in 1204.
Crusader groups, usually not knights but the urban poor, took the opportunity of Christian fervour to attack minority groups, especially Jews in northern France and the Rhineland. The crusading movement also spread to Spain where, in the second and third decades of the 12th century, attacks were made against the Moors there. Prussia, the Baltic, North Africa, and Poland, amongst many other places, would also witness crusading armies up to the 16th century as the crusading ideal, despite the dubious military successes, continued to appeal to leaders, soldiers, and ordinary people in the west, and its target widened to include not only Muslims but also pagans, schismatics, and heretics.
36. The German Fighter That Caught the British Off Guard
When the Luftwaffe&rsquos Focke-Wulf Fw 190 first made its operational debut in France in August, 1941, it came as an unpleasant surprise to the RAF. Except for turn radius, the new German fighter was superior in just about every way to the RAF&rsquos main frontline fighter at the time, the Spitfire Mk. V. Especially when dogfighting at low and medium altitudes.
Fw 190As in France. Bundesarchiv Bild
The Fw 190 seized aerial superiority from the RAF for nearly a year, until the introduction of the vastly improved Spitfire Mk. IX in July, 1942, restored parity. In the meantime, the British were desperate to get their hands on an Fw 190 to examine what made it tick, and figure out how to best counter it. Aware of that, the Luftwaffe prohibited its Fw 190 pilots from flying over Britain, lest one get shot down and give the British the opportunity to inspect the wreckage. Then one of the biggest oops moments by a WWII pilot delivered an Fw 190 in pristine condition straight into the RAF&rsquos hands.
To the east, American and British troops advanced through the Atlas Mountains after dealing with the Vichy French authorities. It was the hope of the German commanders that the Allies could be held in the mountains and prevented from reaching the coast and severing Rommel's supply lines. While Axis forces were successful in halting the enemy advance in northern Tunisia, this plan was disrupted to the south by the Allied capture of Faïd east of the mountains. Situated in the foothills, Faïd provided the Allies with an excellent platform for attacking towards the coast and cutting Rommel's supply lines. In an effort to push the Allies back into the mountains, the 21st Panzer Division of General Hans-Jürgen von Arnim's Fifth Panzer Army struck the town's French defenders on January 30. Though French artillery proved effective against the German infantry, the French position quickly became untenable (Map).
Horses in World War One
Horses were heavily used in World War One. Horses were involved in the war’s first military conflict involving Great Britain – a cavalry attack near Mons in August 1914. Horses were primarily to be used as a form of transport during the war.
Horses pulling artillery
When the war broke out in Western Europe in August 1914, both Britain and Germany had a cavalry force that each numbered about 100,000 men. Such a number of men would have needed a significant number of horses but probably all senior military personnel at this time believed in the supremacy of the cavalry attack. In August 1914, no-one could have contemplated the horrors of trench warfare – hence why the cavalry regiments reigned supreme. In fact, in Great Britain the cavalry regiments would have been seen as the senior regiments in the British Army, along with the Guards regiments, and very many senior army positions were held by cavalry officers.
However, the cavalry charge seen near Mons was practically the last seen in the war. Trench warfare made such charges not only impractical but impossible. A cavalry charge was essentially from a bygone military era and machine guns, trench complexes and barbed wire made such charges all but impossible. However, some cavalry charges did occur despite the obvious reasons as to why they should not. In March 1918, the British launched a cavalry charge at the Germans. By the Spring of 1918, the war had become more fluid but despite this, out of 150 horses used in the charge only 4 survived. The rest were cut down by German machine gun fire.
However, though a cavalry charge was no longer a viable military tactic, horses were still invaluable as a way of transporting materials to the front. Military vehicles, as with any mechanised vehicles of the time, were relatively new inventions and prone to problems. Horses, along with mules, were reliable forms of transport and compared to a lorry needed little upkeep.
Germans advancing on horseback to the Marne
Such was the use of horses on the Western Front, that over 8 million died on all sides fighting in the war. Two and a half million horses were treated in veterinary hospitals with about two million being sufficiently cured that they could return to duty.
Battle of Rourkes Drift - Preparing the Station:
Shortly after Spalding's departure, Lieutenant James Adendorff arrived at the station with news of the defeat at Isandlwana and the approach of 4,000-5,000 Zulus under Prince Dabulamanzi kaMpande. Stunned by this news, the leadership at the station met to decide their course of action. After discussions, Chard, Bromhead, and Acting Assistant Commissary James Dalton decided to stay and fight as they believed that the Zulus would overtake them in open country. Moving quickly, they dispatched a small group of Natal Native Horse (NNH) to serve as pickets and began fortifying the mission station.
Constructing a perimeter of mealie bags that connected the station's hospital, storehouse, and kraal, Chard, Bromhead, and Dalton were alerted to the Zulu's approach around 4:00 PM by Witt and Chaplain George Smith who had climbed the nearby Oscarberg hill. Shortly thereafter, the NNH fled the field and was quickly followed by Stephenson's NNC troops. Reduced to 139 men, Chard ordered a new line of biscuit boxes built across the middle of the compound in an effort to shorten the perimeter. As this progressed, 600 Zulus emerged from behind the Oscarberg and launched an attack.
6 Answers 6
The human body literally contains all the nutrients humans need to survive and thrive. Getting to them is another matter. Some of those nutrients are easy to get by eating flesh, but others will be concentrated in organs, the bones, or blood. Eating bones is flat difficult, and drinking blood exposes you to a lot of potential diseases. Some organs, like the kidney and liver, can contain toxins, and eating them (especially raw) will, sooner or later, result in serious health issues.
Eating raw flesh is mostly safe in the short term, provided it is fresh and the poor guy being eaten isn't already diseased or infested with parasites. Eventually, somebody you eat will be diseased, and in an enclosed area, when one person gets diseased, most of the group is going to get it.
Storing the meat is a serious issue, as raw meat begins to spoil very quickly. Without a way to cook it, it will need to be dehydrated (the sun can do this, or magic). Salting meat is a common means of preserving it, though you will need a lot of salt to do this long-term.
I can't think of any method they could use to preserve the blood, given the constraints you've laid out. It might be possible to dry the blood and then eat whatever doesn't evaporate. I am unaware of any studies about this, how it would protect you from disease (or not), how long the leftovers could be stored before going bad, etc.
In any case, this is going to be very dehumanizing work. Those involved in the processing are going to be severely desensitized and/or traumatized. If anyone they eat has diseases, those are going to crop up in the besieged population. Even if you cook the meat, some of these diseases are going to get out. Without magical support, I don't think it is possible for a community to live on only water and cannibalism for an extended period of time.
If they can at least grow some vegetables and fruit in planter boxes, this scenario becomes much more realistic from a "survival" standpoint. It will still cause severe trauma and change their culture in ways modern humans would find undesirable, to say the least. Some of the population could be sheltered from these effects, but not all.
Sources for trauma resulting from handling bodies:
You say the plan is to kill/capture and then eat their enemies?
One Question. How? As you have defined the problem the city is under siege. By default that means it has been blockaded/encircled by a superior militarily force which is both preventing the inhabitants both bringing in food and other supplies and preventing citizens from exiting in any significant numbers. (That's how sieges work.)
It also implies that the defenders have no choice but to accept this state of affairs because they don't have the military force needed to break the siege. Otherwise they wouldn't be under siege to begin with!
So if your city is planning to obtain enemy soldiers in big enough numbers to sustain itself they have no choice but to sortie through the city gates and fight pitched battles with the besiegers. And remember besieging armies generally planned and prepared for a siege.
They built fortified camps for their own soldiers well back from the city walls, posted guards all around the city to watch for movement and had things like roving patrols and watch fires. They knew their besieged enemies had the option of sallying forth so they usually planned for that outcome. (At least wise generals did.) They're certainly won't be standing around stark naked covered in garnish and carrying placards saying 'eat me I'm yours".
Now history is full of famous examples of this type of fight but the outcomes are limited to one of the following broad outcomes
A) The besieged citizens sortie but their attempt is detected and they are driven back inside with both sides suffering losses. However they manage to hold the gates behind them. Outcome - siege continues.
B) As per (A) Above but they can't hold the gates the fighting moves on into the city, usually because the besiegers outnumber the besieged they win. But regardless of the outcome the siege ends. Problem solved.
C) They sortie and catch the besiegers unaware. The besieging army is defeated and retreats. Siege ends, problem solved. (Perhaps they return later but for the moment at least the siege is lifted.)
Point is none of these options are going to deliver enough protein to the city to solve the problem. As long as the attacking general is content to just starve out the defenders without sending troops to assault the walls your city can't access 'fresh meat' without coming out to fight for it. And they will never be able to collect sufficient to feed everyone for long because the only scenario where they are left alone to harvest their prize is the one where they win and the siege is lifted anyway.
One final point - most cultures have a universal prohibition against cannibalism, they will do it in desperate situation (and yes this is a desperate situation) but before they 'stoop' to the level of eating human flesh some of the citizens will consider another entirely plausible option which was also common during sieges.
Betrayal - someone somewhere will consider trading safe access to the city at night to the enemy in exchange for food and protection. It happened repeatedly in historical sieges.
Human flesh is remarkably nutritious and you could likely survive on a diet of humans for quite a long period. That being said, there are reasons why no species or culture has ever evolved that relies primarily on cannibalism, mainly that it's not exactly easy to make a living hunting prey that has senses and intelligence equal to yours. Investing that much effort into every single hunt would very rapidly doom your culture. This is less of a problem in a wartime situation, since people are dropping dead all the time, but if you want your city to survive entirely on cannibalism, you have to take into account how good humans are at avoiding getting eaten.
Diseases, especially prion diseases, would also be a huge problem, just as they were in real-world cultures that practiced cannibalism. Kuru, for instance, is a neurodegenerative prion disease that was once prevalent on the island of Papua, where it was spread almost entirely through ritual cannibalism among the indigenous population. It's incurable even with modern technology and has an extremely long incubation period (in some cases as long as 50 years), making it basically undetectable as well. In general, eating your own species is risky, since anything that made your prey sick can also make you sick.
All in all, it's doable in the short-term, but your city is massively screwed if it has to rely exclusively on cannibalism for a longer period of time. It might be safer to just turn your foes' bones into fertilizer to grow better crops (bone is actually pretty good for this).
It has happened in the past, like in the case of the whaler Essex
Essex was an American whaler from Nantucket, Massachusetts, which was launched in 1799. In 1820, while at sea in the southern Pacific Ocean under the command of Captain George Pollard Jr., she was attacked and sunk by a sperm whale. Thousands of miles from the coast of South America with little food and water, the 20-man crew was forced to make for land in the ship's surviving whaleboats.
The men suffered severe dehydration, starvation, and exposure on the open ocean, and the survivors eventually resorted to eating the bodies of the crewmen who had died. When that proved insufficient, members of the crew drew lots to determine whom they would sacrifice so that the others could live. A total of seven crew members were cannibalized before the last of the eight survivors were rescued, more than three months after the sinking of the Essex.
some of them managed to survive on that forced diet. And they didn't have a supply of fresh water
they didn't worry too much about cooking their meal, because for obvious reason when on a shipwreck in the middle of the ocean wood is not exactly the most abundant resource.
The human body, naturally, contains all the basic nutrients a human needs to survive. So as long as you're careful to eat all of it (grind up the bone to put in sausages, drink/use the blood in cooking, eat most of the organs) you'll get everything you need from cannibalism to survive. It might not be the perfect diet, I'm not an expert in all the vitamins and minerals a human needs to know if there's Some Specific Thing which you'll be somewhat deficient in if you only eat people which might lead to long-term complications. But the diet will be at least as "healthy" as a normal medieval diet.
That being said, how many corpses would you need? James Cole estimates an adult human body contains on average 125,822 calories. Source Caloric consumption for an adult human is roughly 2,000 calories a day. (Cole believes that a modern human's average need is 2,4000 calories a day. Not sure why, so I'm sticking with 2,000 as the more widely-accepted figure.) That implies a single human body could feed 62.9 people for a day. Of course there's going to be "wastage" in the corpse as you're unlikely to eat 100% of it. Assuming 15% wastage (loss of caloric value from spilled blood/missing bits from hacking your victim to death outside the walls, etc) means your average corpse feeds 53 people a day. Call it 50 in round numbers. So for every 50 defenders in your castle, you need to kill one attacker every day AND recover the corpse. Of course, you might not get "just" humans in your attack. I couldn't find a full-body caloric assessment, but just the muscle mass of a horse yields 359,100 calories. Assuming that's the maximum value you can get (medieval horses were smaller, there's some wastage which may or may not offset whatever added caloric value the blood and bones get you) a horse can feed about 179 people a day. But as cavalry aren't really "storm the walls" troops, you can't rely on the enemy keeping horses anywhere near enough for you to snag. So the question becomes, can the defenders achieve a kill ratio of 1 attacker per day for every 50 defenders?
I believe the answer is a firm "No." Assuming the enemy has 2x the amount of men as the defenders (Since 2x would preclude the defenders just sallying out en-mass but is less than the 3x generally thought sufficient to storm a fortified position with a chance of success) That would involve inflicting More than 1% casualties on the enemy every day for as long as you need to live purely off human flesh. Sieges were long, drawn out affairs. The enemy likely will keep out of bowshot most of the time, relying on starvation to take its toll. This means any sally for "provisions" will require a force from the castle going at least 100 yards (and likely longer, depending on your bow tech) from the castle, into the enemy camp, killing some of them, and then dragging the bodies back. The dragging back is the killer here. I can see a vicious and aggressive besieging force launching tons of attacks, and POSSIBLY inflicting a kill per 50 every day. But you have to get the body back, as intact as possible. At some point your enemy will realize you're literally eating him and do everything in his power to stop you.
Unless you're some sort of horror cult that cannibalizes in peacetime, they'll know you're low on food. The attacker will simply pull back even further, fortify the siege lines even more heavily, and fight like hell to protect their dead from desecration. Which means you won't recover every corpse. Which means you need to kill even MORE of the enemy. As a 1% daily attrition rate would end the siege in a max of 80 days (the point where your besieged force significantly outnumbered the attackers that started 2x the size) Killing even MORE of them makes the whole concept of your defenders being besieged to the point they need to eat the enemy dead redundant.
You can offset this somewhat by the defenders eating their own dead as well, but that leads to diminishing returns. A starving person is a lot fewer calories than a healthy one, and likely deficient in key nutrients that would cascade as anyone eating them wouldn't get those nutrients from the corpse. Though I admit I'm not sure how long one could live eating your own dead while "augmenting" any missing nutrients from enemy corpses, the end result still seems like you'd need to many deaths to keep the siege viable, one way or the other.