Sieges are violent tests of ingenuity and balls between two sides, and over the years men of war have come up with some pretty clever ways to keep their enemies the fuck off their lawns. Sieges are never as simple as ladders and ballistae, but here are six from history that are especially unusual.
November 885 - October 886
In the year 884, France got a new king named Charles the Fat. You might have figured this from his name, but Charles the Fat wasn't known for his toughness. At the risk of redefining ninth century comedy as we know it, I believe His Grace chose the name "Charles the Fat" because "Charles the Pussy" was too hard for his husband to spell. A Viking erection can smell weakness across 300 miles of ocean, so the Danes approached Charles the Fat and offered him a deal: Give us gold for a chance at not getting raped. The same business model is used today by Cash4Gold.
Showing strange pride for someone with "Fat" in their name, Charles the Fat said no. The vikings headed towards Paris with 700 boats and 30,000 men, numbers that fussy historians have debated down to as low as 200 boats and 5,000 men. The point is, any number of Vikings more than zero is bad for Paris and its 200 soldiers. Oh shit, 200 men? Some of you guys are going to have to share a Viking erection.
Paris had two bridges leading out of it that blocked boat traffic, and each of those was guarded by a tower. The Danes laid siege to the northeast one, and all the siege all-stars made an appearance: catapults, battering rams, hot oil, murder holes ... it was classic. Everything was going according to plan on both sides until later that night. The Vikings woke up and saw that the tower got taller while they were asleep.
When you're sieging a tower, you have three choices: climb the wall, knock it down or hang out until everyone inside starves to death. But when the besieged have a bridge that leads to food and tower-building equipment, well then shit. So after two months of watching the tower get taller and the people inside it get fatter, the Vikings came up with a very Viking plan: fill the river with dead bodies so they could attack from every side. I assume everyone here has tried building an island out of cadavers, but I'm still going to list all the reasons this was a bad idea: screaming ghosts.
Plan B was slightly better. The Vikings lit a few of their boats on fire and aimed them at the bridge. With cheers raised to their Norse gods, the flaming Viking boats crashed into the bridge and ... and it was OK? Goddammit. If you ask me, the fact that the bridge didn't explode is thermodynamic proof that Thor is gay.
The Vikings went back to ramming the tower while hot oil melted them, until several days later when a heavy rain raised the river and destroyed the fire-ball weakened bridge supports with a flood of dead bodies. Holy crap! I take it back, Thor. Awesome!
With only 12 men left in the tower and no access to supplies, the Franks spent their last days huddled in a Middle Age zombie movie. It was also going pretty badly for the people inside the Paris walls. I'm not a virologist, but when you have thousands of Viking armpits in your river and no place to bury your dead, you're going to catch a sniffle.
While Paris festered, most of the Vikings went north. History books aren't completely clear on what they did up there, but it rhymes with rape. The pillaged French people finally got word to Charles, who I'm sure you remember was Fat, that they broke the fourth rule of European war: dropping hot oil on Vikings and then losing. Charles sent the French army, and with perfect military precision, they gave the Vikings 700 pounds of silver to leave. It was such an act of unmanliness that from that day forward, fat people were cursed to never again see their own cocks. It might be difficult to explain in modern terms how politically suicidal this ransom was, but it would be like Obama digging up Arlington cemetery to get parts for a Nicolas Cage wax figure museum.
February 23 - March 6, 1836
The Alamo was a small fort, and in 1835, most Texans thought it was undefendable. Compare that to now when most Texans think the Alamo is too small to hold their leftovers. The Alamo is so small that the Bexar County Tourism Board added a decimal to the front of its maximum occupancy. But I'm digressing -- this isn't about the war Texans are losing to Mexican food; it's about the one they were losing to Mexican Mexicans.
The Alamo was too isolated for support and its walls were fortified to fend off Comanches, not artillery. Against the superior numbers of Santa Anna's incoming Mexican army, it was strategically insane to dig in and try to hold it. Which is probably why Texan Army Commander Sam Houston sent Jim Bowie to the fort with orders to withdraw. But we didn't name a giant knife after the guy because that's how he lost his balls -- Jim Bowie got to the Alamo and suggested instead that everyone take out their dicks and face south.
Commander Houston still thought this was a bad plan, so he sent William Travis to the Alamo with double-secret orders to withdraw. After a few minutes of talking to Jim Bowie, word was sent back to fuck that, and the Alamo was now one William Travis tougher. Santa Anna was still two months away, so the brave Texans shored up the battered walls and stockpiled gunpowder, or at least they would have if Santa Anna hadn't shown up immediately.
Five thousand Mexican soldiers surrounded the Alamo and started bombarding the 150 men inside. Low on gunpowder and impossibly far from reinforcements, the Texans only had one thing going for them: They are really good at shooting people crossing borders. Texans might not look good in bathing suits, but they hit what they're aimin' at. Santa Anna kept his men back as far as possible, but his cannons weren't doing much and there were huge gaps in his lines. William Travis took advantage of this and sent riders in the night who came back with 30 men. Not regular men, but the kind of hardasses who would sneak into a circle of Mexicans to stand where their cannonballs are landing. Now with 180 men, the Americans' odds went from impossible to stupid. And we fuckin' like those odds.
For 13 days, the cannons beat away at the Alamo until Santa Anna finally decided to suck it up and charge. The Americans knew that once this happened, the best they could do was go out big, and they stuck to that plan. The men at the Alamo died so hard that San Antonians can still hear their spirits at night, punching the ghosts of bears. The restless dead of the Alamo forced Parker Brothers to completely redesign Texas Ouija boards.
January 22 - 23, 1879
When the British invaded Zululand in 1879, they had the clever plan to time it during the harvest season so all the warriors would be home gardening. Unfortunately, the start of the harvest season, First Fruits, is exactly when the Zulu soldiers show up to work. And I'm sure all the white people with guns marching through their backyard gave them something interesting to talk about. King Cetshwayo came up with an awesome plan that I hope I'm not over-complicating: everybody go eat the fuckers.
Another factor that the British invasion hinged upon was that guns are better than spears. They figured that a few fine gentlemen with rifles and cannons could easily prevail against armies of shirtless savages with cowhide shields and pokey sticks. And while it's true that the Zulus thought guns were for wusses, they also thought that was a pretty hollow principle if they couldn't get their enemies to agree to it, so they had a few guns.
On January 22, 2,000 noisy and slow-marching British troops made camp at Isandlwana. They had God and technology on their side, so they didn't bother setting up a defense. I'm sure they realized their mistake when 20,000 Zulus showed up, but hindsight is no match for 20,000 spears. The British opening to the Zululand campaign had the same military tactics as my girlfriend playing Civilization.
Speaking of tactics, a Zulu army forms up like a buffalo -- the "head" attacks first while the "horns" circle around and flank the enemy. The "loins" stay back to cut off the enemy's escape and communications. I'm not sure if they're called the loins because they fuck you or if that's only a happy coincidence. At the ass-kicking of Isandlwana, the Zulus didn't even need their 4,000-man loins corps. The British were too busy leaking from assegai holes to escape, so the 4,000 bored Zulus went looking for a fight. They jogged 20 miles to attack a mission station called Rorke's Drift because that's what you do when you're a division made up entirely of loins.
The 150 troops at Rorke's Drift knew the Zulu were coming, and they also knew their walls were mostly made out of grain bags. Their first plan was to ditch the mission and escape, but the only thing dumber than trying to fight 4,000 Zulus is trying to outrun 4,000 Zulus.
The Zulu impi got to Rorke's Drift after their 32K and charged in full force. The British kept them off the wall as long as they could with rifles, then fell back in a shrinking perimeter defense when that failed. The Zulus took heavy casualties as they constantly climbed over more things, which goes to show that if you kill a couple thousand of their men with spears, the British suddenly have enough respect for you to not be retarded.
Reports from the fight were unkind to the accuracy of Zulu riflemen, but after 11 hours of hard fighting the British soldiers shot 19,100 bullets and killed less than 300 men. Hey, British, those are Stormtrooper numbers. Three-hundred deaths is what you expect from 19,100 rollerblade rentals, not 19,100 bullets. Still, their wanton A-Teamery was good enough to hold back the onslaught of Zulu warriors while only suffering 15 deaths.
When the Zulus finally broke off their attack at 4 a.m., 500 wounded men were left behind. This gave the British troops the same idea people get when they see a cheerleading competition: 500 murders. They got to stabbing, but unknown to the fine gentlemen, a different group of Zulus was approaching Rorke's Drift. They'd been marching for almost a week straight, hadn't eaten in two days, and promptly left when they saw a bunch of half-dead white people mutilating 800 corpses with bayonets. And that is where we got the phrase, "Oh HELL no."