Medieval warfare -- How do you take a bridge?

I'm going to be running a game tonight, and as a backdrop for the role-playing, the PC is going to infiltrate the Iberian Order of Calatrava as they attempt to take the Roman bridge at Alcantara, spain. ... 661044.jpg

It suddenly occurred to me that I don't know the realistic strategy of how to take a bridge at all.

The Military Order wants to take the city from the Moors, but first they have to cross the bridge. I'm thinking that for now they've camped on one side of the river (the side from which the above photo is taken), and are stopping all traffic from entering the city. But when they attack the bridge / city, how do they do so?

In this adventure, they will be repulsed by a water elemental under the control of a Moorish Spirit Master and will fail (until the order actually takes the city, later in 1214).

The PC simply has to infiltrate their camp and steal something of value. He will not be involved in the attack. But I'd like the strategy in place for texture. The player knows his military history and strategy, so I need to be on top of it so I don't disrupt his suspension of disbelief.

Please help!

I assume that no/little magic can be used.

This would be a difficult bridge to assault. Notice the battlements perpendicular to the end of the bridge across the water. I also assume those battlements extend to the side of the bridge we can't see. These battlements prevent attackers from assaulting from under the bridge, which would be a preferred method.

If I were leading an attack, I would break my force into two. One large that would attack straight across the bridge and a smaller that would cross down/up river, circle around the battlements that I mentioned and attack the defending force once they are fully engaged by my main force. This attack, of course, would occur at night. If the top of the arc in the middle of the bridge is accessible, once I reached that point, I would send archers up there to pin the enemy down.

I'd use dishonesty or a bribe

Unfortunately I kind of blew the climax in this story (The bridge assault). The story took an unexpected turn, and by the time we got to the camp of Crusaders, it was very late and I wasn't thinking straight. The character was sneaking around trying to find the object of his quest, and I had him overhear a conversation that the assault would be the following night (I should have thought ahead and had it be that night). A couple of lucky rolls later that I couldn't deny, and he found the object and left before the assault ever began. He was happy to get out without any problems, but the point was to get him caught in the crossfire as the Djinn of the valley was turned on the crusaders. I was hoping to plant some story seeds for later.... but alas....

Thanks for the thoughts, gang!

A fairly long, quite high bridge stretching from rather steep and troublesome river slopes, with an arch in the middle and guard posts at both ends and fortifications anchoring the hostile side(mostly ruins today though and i cant really say how much was there at the relevant time)...
They will take it with great difficulty i think.

Not much trees to make rafts from either and the river is just too big to improvise a bridge to use for getting around the defense.

Ah interesting, it seems that the waterflow may also have been affected today because there is a hydropower dam just a few hundred meters upstream from the bridge.
8 minutes of video sweeps over the area.

Oh my, all the fortifications that we can see the ruins of today, if all of them existed at the time, that hill is one mean place to defend.

The steep slopes also makes that quite troublesome.

You would probably have to do the opposite, because the flanking force is the one that will have to deal with the fortifications at the end of the bridge. The walls there is in easy range of the end of the bridge for even a poor archer.

Which is why the defenders will of course have archers there. And with no accessway there, ladders is the order of the day.

By surprise, trickery, bribery or treason most likely.
Surprise: when coming there(before being known to be at the place), move fast and dont stop until you´re over the bridge and up the corner of the walls with enough soldiers. This has a major problem though and that is those very walls on the far side, if those can be manned quick enough before taken it could become a very onesided meatgrinder. And the length of the bridge means there will be quite some time to react. If cavalry is available, its easier, but they cant assault walls so not a huge difference.

Trickery: find a way, any way to get enough of the garrison to move over to your side and cut them off from retreating back across the bridge, then once the main force is gone, smash in the front door. Maybe use a part of the force to attack and then fake a chaotic retreat as if you had expected a much smaller garrison, with the rest of the force hidden(during the night perhaps) or out of sight but as close to the bridge as possible. Still, based on the terrain visible, im not sure this can be done.

Of course, all this depends greatly on what kind of force sizes, types and their qualities are involved.

If the garrison is of any real size, my personal choice would be cross the river elsewhere with the main force and attack the hill from the very opposite side once a smaller force(preferably at least 1.5 to 2 times the garrison in size, or they wont be take seriously) has engaged the defenders on the bridge.
That of course depends on there actually being another place not too far away where an army CAN cross.

Spears and swords or maces(or similar) with shields will probably be preferred for making the push, spears for the pushing across the bridge and swords/maces for assaulting fortifications.

If defenders have more than 1/3 of the attacking force in numbers(if even quality personnel), the attack will very likely fail.
If i had to take that bridge, deprived of surprise i would like at minimum a 5-1 force advantage, 10-1 preferred. Its a very troublesome place.

Ouch and LOL... Thats a bummer, better luck next time. Maybe the djinn had felt the presence of the object and wants it as well? And gets really nuts about some pitiful human running off with it just as he was going to grab it? :stuck_out_tongue:

Even with modern equipment and troops, I'd hate to try and take that bridge.

However, since the attack is fated to fail, your best bet is actually to have the attackers use magic, which stirs up the creature under the bridge, provoking it's assault.

And heh, oh well. Pity you couldn't use it. Perhaps he gets a bollocking from a Quasitor if he's found out, since there was magic used, and he didn't insist on a "join or die" push at the mage involved, or report it to a Quasitor like he should have? :stuck_out_tongue:

Bugger. I was hopping to read how did the assault go :frowning: I have no idea on bridge taking techniques, but it sounded like quite a climax! Looks like you are playing with a sneaky character, so the lack of a climax is not that weird here :slight_smile: Make sure to put a few people with Second Sight around next time tyou want him to be forced to have interactions with people. Also, remember that dogs are ot fooled by 'plain vision invisibility, and tha tpeople can still bump into an invisible character.



Good thoughts, Xavi. Dogs. Dangit. Should have thought of that.

Who's picture is that, btw? I'd like to ask them a couple of questions.



Taking it by storm is going to be really hard as numbers don't matter. Bombardment of the fortifications on the bridge is obvious as is using a narrow siege tower Basically this is a mobile wooden tower much like a castle tower, covered with wet skins to prevent burning. This allows the attackers to get close without losing too many people and nullifies the height advantage of the fortifications. You'll need the best troops since quantity isn't substitutable for quality.

All this however plays to the strengths of the defenders. Cross the river via boats or pontoon bridges and take the bridge from both sides with scaling ladders. Do a direct assault as well. If the bridge defenders think they're going to be cut off from either side they'll retreat. If they are cut off they'll surrender. Basically it's easier to think of crossing the river as though the bridge did not exist but you had to commit some of your forces elsewhere. Once you cross the river taking the bridge means you can reinforce easier and safer. I don't know how hard it will be to keep a pontoon bridge afloat against the enemy catapults though. Maybe just fill in the river (oh wait that won't work, water spirit, still they can try).

I know it's already a done deal, but I had to chime in with my two cents.

Obviously how many defenders (as well as their quality) man the bridge are critical. If it's a strong force I'd say don't even try. So then the attacker's objective would be weaken the force somehow, say by crossing the river with a force miles up/downstream and marauding the surrounding countryside within a few miles of the fort. The defending general then must choose whether to allow his enemy to burn and plunder unchecked while his men sit behind battlements, or else he must sally with a force to repel the marauders. Then while the sally force is out, assault the bridge quickly. One must have a very large attacking force to do this.

The attacking general might be wiser to ask: Do I need this bridge, or do I just need to cross the river? If the latter, the smartest strategy is cross the river miles from here, where the enemy doesn't expect you to. If you have to have the bridge itself, the most manpower-efficient method is to lay siege to both sides and starve the defenders out. May not be practical given the proximity of relief forces, the attackers' resources, etc.

Assaulting this bridge is a nightmare, precisely because most of the well-articulated ideas about siege towers, pontoon bridges, dividing forces, etc. cannot escape the sheer difficulty at the point of contact. The river gorge is too deep to use scaling ladders on the span itself (which would be very hairy in the best circumstances), an attacker could only position a small number of siege towers (I think too few to be effective before they are burned, demolished, etc.), crossing on an alternate bridge built adjacent to this one just invites a sally party to create a bloodbath. No, if it has to be assaulted an attacker needs to have a 10:1 or better ratio of attackers to defenders, and men with the kind of stomachs to endure a nightmare from hell.

I think DW 75 suggested the best methods: trickery, bribery, and treason.

As has already been stated, taking a bridge is extremely hard. Barring treason etc. your best options are:

  1. If the bridge is to a small island, lay siege to the island.
  2. If the bridge is between two large tracts of land, cross it elsewhere, by ford, boat or ... bridge. Remeber, Caesar built a 150+m long 6+m wide bridge over the Rhine (reaching depths of almost 10m) in two weeks, using local lumber. He crossed, scouted around for less than a month, crossed back, tore the bridge down. Two years later, he had to cross the Rhine again... so he build another bridge from scractch.

Yes, but a few problems with that? The best part of the Roman military was exactly their ability with field engineering. The Mongol army after their conqest of China(as thats where they got their hands on lots of military engineers and the ideas for it) probably has the same or similar ability, but apart from those few others will have this capacity.
Also, the Rhine is a large but SLOW river, this bridge is over a river that while much smaller, before the modern dam was built most likely was fairly rapid(and based on pictures i would guess the water level was maybe one meter higher normally before the dam existed, possibly a bit more). And the riversides here is also considerably more troublesome. And the terrain is very low on wood which makes it very hard to find useful building material unless you plan to spend years in construction.