Battle of La Forbie (1244 AD)
By Chris Jones
The battle of La Forbie near Gaza fought in 1244 was one of the most severe disasters suffered by the Crusaders at the hands of their Moslem enemies. The large army which they had managed to gather for the battle was largely destroyed and the forces of Outremer were probably permanently weakened as a result. The Military Orders of the Templars, Hospitallers and Teutonic Knights among others suffered particularly seriously.
The forces of the Egyptian Sultan were commanded by Baibars who had been a soldier in the ranks of the Mamluks. The Mamluks were a body of elite cavalry raised from foreign slaves. Within less than a decade, in 1250, several of the Mamluk would rise up and assassinate the Sultan. Subsequently, Baibars would become the first Mamluk Sultan. Needless to say, he was already a notable warrior in 1244 AD, having risen from comparative obscurity to full command of the forces of the Ayyub army. He was to show himself a skilled tactician in the campaign that was to follow.
Baibars forces had as their core a large body of some 6,000 Mamluk Cavalry, elite troops armoured and mounted on large horses in the main. These forces were supported by around 10,000 Khwarizmian Nomads. These nomad forces had arrived in the area having been forced out of their own lands by Mongol incursions. They had sacked Jerusalem not long before but had been persuaded into Egyptian service in exchange for land of their own. They now intended to fight alongside the Mamluk forces against the Crusaders.
The Frankish army consisted of about 6,000 men including many from the various military orders as well as 4,000 Syrian cavalry and a number of lightly-armed Bedouin horse. Al-Mansur recommended that the Crusaders should fortify their camp and sit tight until the lightly equipped Khwarizmians deserted through impatience. However, de Brienne led his forces out to do battle.
The Frankish host deployed with the Western Knights on their right flank, the Syrians in the centre and the Bedouin light horse on the left flank. The Mamluks initially deployed opposite the Syrians with the Khwarizmians facing the Crusader knights.
However, at the outset of the battle, the Khwarizmians suddenly changed position and attacked the Syrians. This unexpected onslaught seems to have been too much for the Syrians and they broke before the knights could support them. Only Al-Mansur and his 2,000 troops from Homs managed to cut their way out with very high losses. At this point the Bedouin troops fled the field without being engaged at all.
The Christian knights and their retainers continued their advance and charged Baibar's Mamluks. They had some initial success but were then struck by the Khwarizmians in their flank and rear. The Franks were cut to pieces over several hours of hard hand to hand fighting. They seem to have lost over three quarters of their numbers including 100 made captive. The Military Orders suffered particularly severely. Truly it was a dark day for Christendom.
Simulating La Forbie in DBA
Orders of Battle
The Syro-Frankish Army (commanded by Count Walter de Brienne and Al Mansur of Homs):
The Egyptian Forces (under Baibars) and Khwarizmian allies:
The terrain should be mainly open ground, unfortunately for the Crusaders.
Normal DBA, except the Khwarizmian forces are deployed after all other troops have been placed on the table to simulate their tactical manoever at the start of the battle
Fight as a Double-DBA (Big Battle) scenario, with Franks and Syrians/Bedouin each representing one command (1 PIP die each) and the Ayyubids and Knwarizmians each representing one command.
Knights of Military Orders add +1 in close combat.
Normal DBA, except the Khwarizmian command breaks on 5 elements lost.
For a colourful and surprisingly accurate description of the events of this battle, try the short story "Sowers of the Thunder" by Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian.
Last Update: March 6, 2000
My thanks to Chris Jones for this scenario. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome. Send them to Chris Brantley at IamFanaticus@gmail.com.