Sunday, June 19, 2005

This Day in History (a little bit early)

(Posted at El-ahriarah's request, edited for spelling and grammar -- CH)

On June 24 in military history….in 217 B.C. Carthaginian forces under Hannibal Barca destroy the Roman forces of Consul Flaminius at Lake Trasimeno.

In 218 B.C., Carthaginian general, Hannibal Barca, marched his forces from Spain through southern France, across the Rhone river and over the Alps into northern Italy. After defeating a Roman army under Consul Tiberius Sempronius Longus at the Battle of the Trebbia River near Piacenza in Northern Italy in December, 218 B.C, he went into winter quarters close to Bologna. The next spring, he started moving his forces south again towards Rome.

In the meantime, the Roman Senate had sent two forces north along the Via Flaminia under Consuls Caius Flaminius and Gnaeus Servilius Geminus respectively, to stop him. Consul Geminus stationed his forces at Ariminum (Rimini) on the Adriatic and Consul Flaminius stationed his forces at Arretium (Arezzo) in Tuscany. Hannibal was able to slip past the Roman forces by crossing the Apennine Mountains south of Bologna, crossing the Arno river at Fiesole near Florence and descending the Chiana valley south of Arretium (Arezzo) towards Perugia.

Whether by design (By Saturn! We will crush the barbarian between our two armies!) or by accident (By Jupiter! The barbarian has escaped the trap!), Consul Flaminius set off in pursuit while the forces of Consul Geminus moved south along the Via Flaminia in an attempt to stay between Hannibal and Rome. With one Roman force pursuing him and another blocking his advance to Rome, Hannibal decided to set a trap at Lake Trasimeno, near Perugia in central Italy.

To the north of Lake Trasimeno is a series of hills which overlook the lake. The road around the lake passes between these hills and the shore of the lake, creating a classic “chokepoint”. If attacked at this point, any pursuing forces would be caught between the attacking forces in the hills to the front and the lake to the rear. It was at this point that Hannibal deployed his forces in the hills above the lake with another force deployed across the line of advance as a blocking force, a classic “L” ambush. The pursuing Roman forces would be forced to march between his forces in the hills and the shores of the lake where the blocking force would stop the Roman advance while the forces in the hills above the lake would attack the Roman flank. Hannibal’s cavalry force would attack the Roman rear to keep them from escaping from the trap.

It normally takes a large amount of skill and training (and incredible stupidity on the enemy’s part) to make an ambush work and, unfortunately for the Romans, this one worked perfectly. The morning of the battle, there was a thick mist coming off the lake which obscured the battlefield. Consul Flaminius thought that Hannibal was at least a day farther ahead so he did not send any scouts forward and his forces were deployed in road march columns in order to make the best time. Just as the bulk of the Romans had marched into the “kill zone”, Hannibal sounded a general attack. The entire Carthaginian force came running down out of the hills and stuck the Roman forces from the front and the flank while Hannibal’s cavalry force “slammed the door shut” on the Roman rear. The Romans did not have time to form up in their normal battle array and were forced to fight were they stood. The Roman forces that were not killed by the Carthaginian onslaught were pushed into the lake where they were drowned.

The Roman forces numbered about 25,000 men and of those, 15,000 were killed outright with the other 10,000 drowning in the lake, including Consul Flaminius whose body was never found. The slaughter was so great that according to an ancient tradition, the name of the stream which runs through the battlefield was changed to Sanguineto which means “blood river”.


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