Tuesday, August 09, 2005

On August 9th in military history....in 378 AD and 1945

On August 9th in military history….in 378 AD. A Germanic army consisting of Visigoths and Ostrogoths under the command of Fritigern defeats the Roman army of Emperor Valens at the Battle of Adrianople. In the later half of 4th century, the Huns were pushing west towards Europe into the lands of the Visigoths. They asked Emperor Valens to be allowed into the Roman Empire and to settle along the Danube. In 376 AD, the Visigoths were allowed to cross the Danube and into the Roman Empire. However, Valens forgot to properly inform the local officials, and after being mistreated for a short time, the Visigoths rose in rebellion and started pillaging the country side, joined by the Ostrogoths (Visi = west, Ostro = east).

Two emperors ruled the Roman Empire at this time, Gratian in the west and his uncle, Valens in the East. Valens asked his nephew to send him reinforcements, but due to problems with the Alemanni along the Rhine, Gratian was delayed setting out to help Valens. For some reason, Valens decided that he could wait no longer for Gratian’s forces and he set out with about 40,000 troops to subdue the Goths.

Adrianople (modern Edirne) is located in Thrace in western Turkey. When the Roman forces arrived, they found the Gothic camp (laager) with the wagons circled a la American West and the Gothic cavalry not anywhere to be found. Valens thought that the Gothic cavalry was off on a raid, but in reality, they were not far away grazing. Unfortunately, thinking that he could easily crush the Goths, Valens formed his troops up in normal attack formation and advanced on the laager.

At first, things were going well for the Romans. The Gothic infantry was confined to their defensive positions inside the laager. The Romans had hoped to surround the laager and massacre the Goths inside, but as news of the battle reached the Gothic cavalry, they quickly returned to the laager. That’s when the wheels came off the Roman plan. The heavier Gothic cavalry quickly swept aside the lighter Roman cavalry and then turned on the Roman infantry. The Gothic infantry, seeing the tide of the battle starting to turn, advanced out of the laager against the Roman infantry. The Roman infantry, without any cavalry support and caught in the open, was quickly surrounded by the Gothic cavalry, cut down and killed. Emperor Valens died along with most of his army.

The Battle of Adrianople is considered as the turning point between the rise of cavalry forces and the decline of infantry forces. Along with Cannae (216 BC) and Teutoburger Wald (9 AD), the Battle of Adrianople is one of the worse defeats in history suffered by the Roman army.

On August 9th in military history….in 1945. The United States drops the second atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. The first atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima was a uranium bomb called "Little Boy" whereas the second dropped on Nagaskai was a plutonium bomb named "Fat Man". See here and here for previous posts on the decision to drop the atomic bomb.


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