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Subject: Unusual battle in the 80 Years Wars rss

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A rather unusual conflict during the 80 Years Wars and I wondered if there was a wargame that approached this particular battle described below.

...Further complicating matters was the fact that the Netherlands didn’t have any mountains or other high places to use defensively. In fact, because so much of the Dutch countryside had once been swamps, lakes, and ocean floor, 30 percent of its land is actually below sea level and most of the rest, just barely above it. But then, officials in the city of Alkmaar in the central part of the country came up with a plan so crazy it probably shouldn’t have worked.


Here’s how the plan went: Flood everything. Breach the levees and dikes that kept rivers and the waters of the North Sea at bay. Create a huge lake on farmland around the city, making it difficult for marching armies to reach its gates. The townspeople went to work— opening water gates, digging holes in levees, and damming rivers. Soon there was water everywhere, and it was too deep to cross on foot. Other towns did the same thing, and when the Spanish army arrived, it looked out helplessly over broad waters and stopped dead.

THE ICE BRIGADE

The Spanish then retreated back to their ships and decided to attack Amsterdam by way of its harbor instead. Time was running out, though, because winter was coming. For the Spanish, that looked like it might be a silver lining: When the cold of winter came, all of those lakes would freeze into ice highways.
The first test of that theory came shortly afterward when the ragtag Dutch fleet was frozen into the Amsterdam harbor, making the Dutch unable to confront the Spanish ships head-on. Taking that advantage, Spanish troops began marching across the ice to attack the ships first, and then they planned to head to the coastline on foot.

But as they marched gingerly across the frozen ice, they were confronted by a horrifying apparition. Wave after wave of Dutch soldiers flew across the surface of the ice with incredible speed, flitting into range just long enough to fire a musket before retreating again behind walls of ice and frozen snow. The Spanish soldiers had never seen anything like it: “It was a thing never heard of before today,” the Spanish Duke of Alva recounted with grudging admiration, “to see a body of musketeers fighting like that on a frozen sea.”

THE AGONY OF THE FEET

The Spanish didn’t stay for long. Alva ordered a quick retreat… or at least as quickly as the Spanish soldiers could go with slippery shoes and frostbitten toes. The Dutch skating masters followed, pushing Alva’s men back to their ships and picking off several hundred of them in the process.

Alva killed a few Dutch soldiers and finally got his hands on the real cause of their high-speed dexterity: ice skates. He sent a pair back to Spain with a message that his soldiers needed skates of their own. When he received that message, the king of Spain ordered 7,000 pairs of ice skates made, and the Spanish military started offering skating lessons.

EPILOGUE
The Spanish became decent skaters, but as defenders, the Dutch held a significant advantage. They were also able to push the Spaniards onto thin ice by cutting the frozen flooded cities at tactical spots, creating deadly traps that sent their enemies plunging deep into freezing water. The Dutch also doubled their fighting forces by teaching civilian women how to shoot and repair damaged walls (often raiding Catholic churches for statues and using them as building material to taunt and demoralize the Spanish).


The war lasted for 80 years, alternating between stalemates and horrifying brutality, but by 1648, the Netherlands and Belgium had driven out the Spanish once and for all. The Dutch continued to refine strategic flooding as a defensive tactic, adding forts along roads and bridges. The “Dutch Water Line” remained effective as a defensive strategy until the air power of World War II finally made it obsolete.


There are some unique tactics used, sounds like one Pete Belli would tackle?
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whatambush wrote:
A rather unusual conflict during the 80 Years Wars and I wondered if there was a wargame that approached this particular battle described below.

...Further complicating matters was the fact that the Netherlands didn’t have any mountains or other high places to use defensively. In fact, because so much of the Dutch countryside had once been swamps, lakes, and ocean floor, 30 percent of its land is actually below sea level and most of the rest, just barely above it. But then, officials in the city of Alkmaar in the central part of the country came up with a plan so crazy it probably shouldn’t have worked.


Here’s how the plan went: Flood everything. Breach the levees and dikes that kept rivers and the waters of the North Sea at bay. Create a huge lake on farmland around the city, making it difficult for marching armies to reach its gates. The townspeople went to work— opening water gates, digging holes in levees, and damming rivers. Soon there was water everywhere, and it was too deep to cross on foot. Other towns did the same thing, and when the Spanish army arrived, it looked out helplessly over broad waters and stopped dead.

THE ICE BRIGADE

The Spanish then retreated back to their ships and decided to attack Amsterdam by way of its harbor instead. Time was running out, though, because winter was coming. For the Spanish, that looked like it might be a silver lining: When the cold of winter came, all of those lakes would freeze into ice highways.
The first test of that theory came shortly afterward when the ragtag Dutch fleet was frozen into the Amsterdam harbor, making the Dutch unable to confront the Spanish ships head-on. Taking that advantage, Spanish troops began marching across the ice to attack the ships first, and then they planned to head to the coastline on foot.

But as they marched gingerly across the frozen ice, they were confronted by a horrifying apparition. Wave after wave of Dutch soldiers flew across the surface of the ice with incredible speed, flitting into range just long enough to fire a musket before retreating again behind walls of ice and frozen snow. The Spanish soldiers had never seen anything like it: “It was a thing never heard of before today,” the Spanish Duke of Alva recounted with grudging admiration, “to see a body of musketeers fighting like that on a frozen sea.”

THE AGONY OF THE FEET

The Spanish didn’t stay for long. Alva ordered a quick retreat… or at least as quickly as the Spanish soldiers could go with slippery shoes and frostbitten toes. The Dutch skating masters followed, pushing Alva’s men back to their ships and picking off several hundred of them in the process.

Alva killed a few Dutch soldiers and finally got his hands on the real cause of their high-speed dexterity: ice skates. He sent a pair back to Spain with a message that his soldiers needed skates of their own. When he received that message, the king of Spain ordered 7,000 pairs of ice skates made, and the Spanish military started offering skating lessons.

EPILOGUE
The Spanish became decent skaters, but as defenders, the Dutch held a significant advantage. They were also able to push the Spaniards onto thin ice by cutting the frozen flooded cities at tactical spots, creating deadly traps that sent their enemies plunging deep into freezing water. The Dutch also doubled their fighting forces by teaching civilian women how to shoot and repair damaged walls (often raiding Catholic churches for statues and using them as building material to taunt and demoralize the Spanish).


The war lasted for 80 years, alternating between stalemates and horrifying brutality, but by 1648, the Netherlands and Belgium had driven out the Spanish once and for all. The Dutch continued to refine strategic flooding as a defensive tactic, adding forts along roads and bridges. The “Dutch Water Line” remained effective as a defensive strategy until the air power of World War II finally made it obsolete.


There are some unique tactics used, sounds like one Pete Belli would tackle?
It certainly solves the question of what battle to set my "Wargames on Ice" stage show around.
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whatambush wrote:
but by 1648, the Netherlands and Belgium had driven out the Spanish once and for all.
Except they didn't. The southern Netherlands provinces remained Spanish occupied, were called the Spanish Netherlands, got transferred to the Austrian part of the Habsburg family and ultimately turned into what is now Belgium. That's why both The Netherlands and Belgium have provinces called Brabant and Limburg - it's like Korea where the cease-fire line ran right straight through the middle.
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eddy_sterckx wrote:
whatambush wrote:
but by 1648, the Netherlands and Belgium had driven out the Spanish once and for all.
Except they didn't. The southern Netherlands provinces remained Spanish occupied, were called the Spanish Netherlands, got transferred to the Austrian part of the Habsburg family and ultimately turned into what is now Belgium. That's why both The Netherlands and Belgium have provinces called Brabant and Limburg - it's like Korea where the cease-fire line ran right straight through the middle.

Interesting footnote, Eddy!
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The same flooding tactics were put to good use during the Louis XIV French invasion.
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Excellent story! I am going to go on a tangent on the following however

whatambush wrote:
The “Dutch Water Line” remained effective as a defensive strategy until the air power of World War II finally made it obsolete.
Except, as Eddy said, it didn't. After WWII the Dutch eastern frontier was the eastern frontier of NATO (up until 1955, at least), and so another water line, the IJssel line (imagine the fancy map I wish I had here) was prepared in great secrecy. So secret in fact that most Dutch people then didn't know anything about it, and many Dutch people even now don't know it.

Near Arnhem (yeah, THAT Arnhem), at the southern end of the river IJssel, you can still find parts of the defences (in the form of turrets of by-then-obsolete Sherman tanks encased in concrete, intended as stationary casemates). All road and railway bridges across the IJssel in the '50s and '60s were designed with spaces ready to hold the explosives to blow them up if the Russians came.

The addition of West-Germany to NATO made it obsolete, but only for the time being. If the diplomatic tables turn once more, you can bet the Dutch will team up with their old enemy Water once more.

You see, enemy soldiers may be airlifted over the water line, but not all can be. And the water is certainly able to slow a regular advance. The water line isn't many fathoms deep, it would be about thigh or waist-deep. In other words, it would be too shallow to cross it with big boats, which would run aground or get ruptured by underwater obstacles. It would in fact be quite possible to wade across, were it not for the ditches that criss-cross the Dutch countryside and which would be nigh impossible to spot from the surface. It would (in combination with other defences) quite likely hinder any advance severely.

(Mind you, the German advance in 1940 is a whole other matter)

EDIT: Here is the Wikipedia-article
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diminishedreplayvalu wrote:

The addition of West-Germany to NATO made it obsolete,
That sounds wildly optimistic. devil
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pelni wrote:
diminishedreplayvalu wrote:

The addition of West-Germany to NATO made it obsolete,
That sounds wildly optimistic. devil
An ally a day keeps the Ruskies away whistle

It's the ultimate not in my back yard, have West Germany be the battleground instead of the tiny Netherlands. Maybe the Red Army will have worn itself out before they get there


Shall we get back to ice-skating?
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What the OP desrcibes in his first paragraphs is the Siege of Alkmaar (1573), which is considered the first step to victory.

Afterwards there was the Siege of Leyden (1573-1574) which is still celebrated there on 3rd October with herring and bread; liberated after also flooding the surrounding area

The Perfect Captain has in their Battle Finder series a game set around Delft situated in the same period (1573), although no combats took place in that area at that time, IIRC.

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AlexFS wrote:
The same flooding tactics were put to good use during the Louis XIV French invasion.
Another example: flooding the Yser river and tributaries/canals stopped the German advance in WWI as well - different country but same geological circumstances.
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anijunk wrote:
What the OP desrcibes in his first paragraphs is the Siege of Alkmaar (1573), which is considered the first step to victory.
This is true, however the siege of Alkmaar was from August 21st to October 8th, and even granting that it was the little Ice Age, I don't think it's likely that any ice would grow in that season, let alone enough to support a few hundred or thousand men.

I have heard OP's tale told about the siege of Haarlem the year before (December 11, 1572 until July 13th, 1573), but the problem there is that the Dutch rebels lost that siege. It seems that the Haarlemmermeer ('Haarlem lake', the huge lake then adjacent to Haarlem, exactly where Schiphol airport is today), was the weak spot in the lines of the Spanish besiegers. According to this Dutch website, when it froze over in the winter, the Dutch would skate over it to bring supplies into the city. Apparently hundreds of sleds would enter the city on some days. Unfortunately, in the end, the lake thawed and the fleet of the city of Amsterdam (which was still allied to the Spanish) came and took control of the lake. After that, Haarlem surrendered.

The siege of Haarlem was significant for its extreme brutality. Previously, cities had simply surrendered at the approach of the Spanish army, choosing to 'sell' their defeat in the form of a lump sum of cash or some limited looting. The Spanish army under Alva was dependent on this kind of success, because the Spanish state, for all its New World gold, was unable to pay the soldiers in the field. However, in several recent sieges the Spanish army had massacred cities which had peacefully surrendered (namely Mechelen, Zutphen and Naarden). The people of Haarlem therefore decided to take their chances and resist.

The entire population, men, women and children helped in the defence, from quite menial tasks to filling in breaches to even fighting on their own accord. Both the Dutch population (whose very survival depended on success) and the Spanish (whose income depended on these upstart rebels) fought fiercely. As an example (according to Dutch wiki) the Spanish once catapulted a severed head into the city, which prompted the defenders to catapult back 11 Spanish prisoners with the message: "Haarlem does not pay to finance Alva's war."

The defeat was painful, but it had shown that the Spanish juggernaut could be slowed, and that it could quite possibly be stopped. This example inspired the later defenders of Alkmaar and Leyden significantly.

EDIT: I did not know about the sack of Mechelen (not important enough to learn about in the Netherlands, I guess blush
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Hi guys,

Interesting article, I've never heard of this campaign. I have a couple of questions.

Why were the Spanish at war with the Netherlands??

After flooding the land, roughly how long would it take before the fields were good again for planting etc. Was there a knock on effect by flooding?

Cheers guys,

Chris
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ThunderCC wrote:

Why were the Spanish at war with the Netherlands??
The Low Countries (roughly present day Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg) had become part of the Habsburg inheritance through marriage and conquest during first half the 16th century.

At that time there was no difference between a Spanish and Austrian branch of the Habsburgs, but that came in 1555 when Charles V left his German possessions to his brother, and the Spanish ones to his son, Philip I.

As the most powerful rulers in Europe, the Habsburgs sided with the Catholic church against the Reformation. This created tensions within their possessions.

At the same time Philip tried to strengthen his hold on his possessions so he could tax them more and thus fight various wars against protestants and arch enemy France, as well as Ottoman expansion in the Mediterannean.

The resistance against religious persecution and centralisation/taxation erupted into open rebellion in 1568. It took 80 years before the Habsburgs acknowledged the independence of the Dutch Republic, but they were able to hold on to most of what is now Belgium and Luxembourg (and some more).
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ThunderCC wrote:
Why were the Spanish at war with the Netherlands??
- In my opinion Money and Religion. The Kings of Spain were the defenders of Catholicism in Europe. The elite and middle classes in Flanders fought for more power, money and independence.

- I have always missed a game that reflected accurately the Spanish "Tercios" wars.

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Cheers guys for your responses!

Glad the rebels stayed true for 80 years! It's quite mad that it could go on for so long.shake

All the best!
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ThunderCC wrote:
After flooding the land, roughly how long would it take before the fields were good again for planting etc. Was there a knock on effect by flooding?
Warning: I'm going to speculate a bit

I don't know exactly, but I think the water level itself could be solved by a few days up to a fortnight of careful water management. I might very well overestimate the speed however.

After draining the land it depends on certain factors. Most importantly: what kind of water was used to flood the land? Fresh water or seawater? Fresh water doesn't do a lot of permanent damage. I believe all the crops can be regrown the next season (of course, this raises the questions: what do they eat this season and what do they grow next season?)

Seawater is a lot worse for the farmers. Seawater is salty and that salt gets absorbed into the soil. When the soil is too salty (ie if the flooding lasted long enough), plants can't grow there, which is bad news for the farmers that depend on them. I'm not sure how quickly this would be resolved, but it might take a few years to get to the normal yields again.

Nobody back then seems to have cared much about what the flooding would do to farmers. I have read about the big water defence lines in the 17th and 18th century that when they were flooded in times of war, the sluices and mills (which are used to regulate the water level) required armed guards to prevent local farmers from sabotaging them.
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Salt damage is over-played I understand. Much much more deadly is ploughing lime into soil - that can kill it for ages.

When Queen Zenobia's revolt was finally crushed and Palmyra fell to the Roman's they ploughed salt into the land surrounding the city and left. Within a couple of years everything was hunky-dory again...
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notquitekarpov wrote:
Salt damage is over-played I understand. Much much more deadly is ploughing lime into soil - that can kill it for ages.

When Queen Zenobia's revolt was finally crushed and Palmyra fell to the Roman's they ploughed salt into the land surrounding the city and left. Within a couple of years everything was hunky-dory again...
That's still a couple of years of smaller crop-yields, higher food prices, possible revolts, etc, etc...

Soil salinization is not like nuclear fallout or lime (making a place unfit for human habitation for generations to come), but it can (and does) reduce crop yields. For a pre-modern city, this can (but does not have to be) disastrous. Even this year (2018) areas of the Netherlands are at risk from salinization because of extreme drought.

Think of it this way: Salt was expensive to the Romans, if it really did nothing, they're just plowing money into the soil.
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I'm agreeing with you.

Ultimately Rome wanted Palmyra to pay tax to the Empire again so I guess salting the surrounding land taught them a strong lesson without making the city permanently uninhabitable.

They could have slaughtered the inhabitants to the last man, woman and child which would have been cheaper than salt but obviously they knew of its use as a warning not a neutron bomb.

{Edit: Typos}
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notquitekarpov wrote:
I'm agreeing with you.
It's all good laugh

Edit for clarity: I thought you were making the opposite point, that salting the earth does nothing. I misread shake
 
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ThunderCC wrote:

Glad the rebels stayed true for 80 years! It's quite mad that it could go on for so long.shake
Well, it wasn't continuous fighting - basically the Spanish throne refused to accept the new reality. The reason for this was because they were Habsburgs and couldn't be seen as giving up ANY territorial claims.

The underlying reason was that it wasn't Spain which acquired The Netherlands, it was the other way around. Charles V was born and raised in Flanders, spoke French and Dutch and only after he acquired Spain learned Spanish and moved his residence over there. So he and his son (Philip II) considered The Netherlands their ancestral territories - and you don't give up your ancestral territories, even if the ungrateful local yokels decide they're better off without you
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Sounds like the current politics up in my neck of the wood right now!

Where’s my irony icon 😒
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notquitekarpov wrote:
Sounds like the current politics up in my neck of the wood right now!
It's not that history exactly repeats itself, it's because history is made by humans whose main characteristics of greed, stubbornness and stupidity haven't changed in millennia
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eddy_sterckx wrote:
The underlying reason was that it wasn't Spain which acquired The Netherlands, it was the other way around. Charles V was born and raised in Flanders, spoke French and Dutch and only after he acquired Spain learned Spanish and moved his residence over there. So he and his son (Philip II) considered The Netherlands their ancestral territories - and you don't give up your ancestral territories, even if the ungrateful local yokels decide they're better off without you
Good point!

It should be said that while Charles was certainly a Fleming in every sense, his son Philip II was more attached to the idea of the homeland than the real country. He was born in Spain, spoke Spanish as his first language and visited the Netherlands only once, and he did not enjoy that experience.
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