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During the second to last siege before Maastricht Vauban directed the 1672 siege of Orsoy, where he used what had been the long standing zigzag of the trenches to approach the city (lower right of the image).

enter image description here Link to full etching

A year later he used a system of parallel trenches to methodically approach Maastricht's city walls, limiting the loss of life to the soldiers attacking the city compared to the zigzag trenches.

enter image description here

Leiden University Collection

I understand the parallel trenches used in the siege of Candia (ending in 1669) were influential to his thinking, but they were more haphazard and not part of a coordinated trench system.

enter image description here

First published in Scheither: Novissima praxis militaris, Brunswick: 1672

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    French WIkipedia on Vauban says: Vauban rationalisa le procédé d'attaque mis au point par les Turcs lors du long siège de Candie qui s'acheva en 1669. ( Vauban rationalized the attack method developed by the Turks during the long siege of Candia which ended in 1669.) So he probably was aware of it.
    – Roger V.
    Commented Jun 13 at 10:55
  • @RogerV. Yes, I was thinking that. Neglected to mention that in my question.
    – Bob516
    Commented Jun 13 at 14:02
  • I've seen inn one place that his Traité de l'attaque et de la deffence des places, where he discusses this technique, was conceived in 1672, but published only several years later. I think one has to read through his biographies to find more details about his reasoning.
    – Roger V.
    Commented Jun 13 at 14:09

1 Answer 1

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Vauban was aware of the Candia siege in developing his system, which was described in his treatise Traité de l'attaque et de la deffence des places (Treatise on the attack and defence of places.)

According to this document (Google translate):

Vauban va révolutionner les principes d’attaque des places en appliquant à l’art de la guerre la rationalité introduite par Descartes. Cela lui permet, grâce au calcul de probabilité, de maîtriser la durée du siège et, par voie de conséquence, d’anticiper sur toutes les fournitures à prévoir. Sa méthode d’attaque, utilisée pour la première fois au siège de Maastricht en 1673 (13 jours de tranchée ouverte), théorisée dès 1672, mais rendue publique par son Traité de l’attaque des places seulement en 1706, va rester appliquée pendant deux siècles dans le monde entier.

Vauban rationnalise l’emploi des parallèles. Il s’agit d’une tranchée parallèle au front attaqué, dite place d’arme, réunissant deux tranchées en zig-zag pour unifier la résistance aux sorties, déjà utilisée par les Ottomans au siège de Candie (1669).

Vauban will revolutionize the principles of attacking places by applying introductory rationality to the art of war. taken by Descartes. This allows him, thanks to the probability calculation, to control the duration of the siege and, by way of Consequently, to anticipate all the supplies to be planned. His method of attack, used for the first time at the siege of Maastricht in 1673 (13 days of open trench), theorized from 1672, but made public by his Treaty of the attack on the places only in 1706, will remain applied for two centuries throughout the world. Vauban rationalizes the use of parallels. This is a trench parallel to the attacked front, called a parade ground, joining two zig-zag trenches to unify the resistance to the sorties, already used by the Ottomans at the siege of Candia (1669).

Unfortunately, the document provides no references to this claim.

French language version of the Wikipedia article on Trench warfare makes similar claims:

Au XVIIe siècle, Vauban révolutionne la prise des places fortes en faisant construire des réseaux de tranchées autour de la citadelle. Dans ce cas, la tranchée n'a pas une vocation défensive mais offensive.

En 1669, Vauban tire les leçons du siège de Candie, port crétois assiégé et pris par les Ottomans utilisant des tranchées parallèles dirigées vers les murs, parachevées par des actions simultanées de sape et de mine. Vauban rédige à cette occasion un Mémoire pour servir d'instruction dans la conduite des sièges (1672), aussitôt mis en application dans la guerre de Hollande (1672-1678)1.

En faisant appel à la fois « à la raison et à l'expérience », Vauban propose la création d'un régiment d'ingénieurs ou « régiment de la Tranchée », composé de compagnies d'ouvriers et de mineurs, dirigées par des ingénieurs. C'est la préfiguration de l'arme du Génie qui sera créée en 17911.

Vauban applique ses idées de façon magistrale lors du siège de Maastricht (1673). Il fait creuser des séries de tranchées concentriques autour de la ville. Ensuite, il les recroise à angle droit par des tranchées dirigées contre la place forte, mais en zigzag, pour éviter les tirs par enfilade. Aux intersections, il établit des places d'armes pour l'artillerie et les troupes d'intervention. La ville est prise en deux semaines1.

In the 17th century, Vauban revolutionized the capture of strongholds by building networks of trenches around the citadel. In this case, the trench does not have a defensive but an offensive purpose.

In 1669, Vauban learned the lessons of the siege of Candia, a Cretan port besieged and taken by the Ottomans using parallel trenches directed towards the walls, completed by simultaneous actions of undermining and mining. Vauban wrote on this occasion a Memoir to serve as instructions in the conduct of sieges (1672), immediately implemented in the Dutch War (1672-1678)1.

By appealing to both "reason and experience", Vauban proposed the creation of an engineer regiment or "Tranchée regiment", composed of companies of workers and miners, led by engineers . It is the foreshadowing of the engineering weapon which will be created in 17911.

Vauban applied his ideas masterfully during the siege of Maastricht (1673). He had a series of concentric trenches dug around the city. Then, he crossed them again at right angles by trenches directed against the stronghold, but in a zigzag, to avoid enfilading fire. At intersections, he established weapons stations for artillery and intervention troops. The city is taken in two weeks1.

Where the reference is a biography of Vauban by Anne Blanchard:
1] Anne Blanchard, Vauban, Paris, Fayard, 2007, 686 p. (ISBN 978-2-213-63410-4), chap. VII (« De la conduite des sièges »), p. 164-167 et 181-185.

I suppose more information on Vauban's reasoning when he came up with his system can be found by searching through his biographies. He likely didn't speak much about his achievements out of deference to the King, who liked to attribute Vauban's military successes to himself.

Update
Article Vauban, la Défense et la cohésion de l'économie nationale (Vauban, Defense and the cohesion of the national economy) provides some more details on how Vauban developed his methods. Regarding the points made above, Vauban originally authored Mémoire pour servir d’instruction à la conduite des sièges in 1672, which would be later transformed into more complete Traité des sièges et de l’attaque des places.

Apparently the complete system was developed by Vauban over many years after the siege of Maastricht:

Pour les années 1674-1698, alors que n’est pas encore rédigé pour le duc de Bourgogne, petit fils du roi, le Traité de l’attaque des places qui ne verra le jour qu’en 1704, on peut noter que si Vauban « n’a pas encore élaboré son savoir poliorcétique (lié à l’art du siège) de façon rigoureuse, celui-ci com- mence à dépasser les recettes ponctuelles pour articuler en tout cohérent les diverses questions à affronter : limiter la mortalité, en particulier celle des ingénieurs ; s’assurer de la santé des soldats (par exemple en assurant leur alimentation) ; neutraliser l’opposition fréquente des bourgeois, source de trahison ; réduire la désertion en combattant les engagements forcés ; orga- niser le logement des officiers et des soldats ; assurer la logistique des sièges, en particulier les provisions de bouche et de feu ; moderniser les armes ; amé- liorer les techniques de tir au canon ; concevoir des formes bastionnées qui résistent aussi longtemps que possible à un assaillant qui devra investir une place avec un nombre disproportionné de soldats »

1,064 / 5,000 For the years 1674-1698, while not yet written for the Duke of Burgundy, grandson of the king, the Treaty of the attack on the places which will not see the day that in 1704, we can note that if Vauban “has not yet developed his poliorcetic knowledge (linked to the art of the siege) in a rigorous manner, this includes begins to go beyond one-off revenues to coherently articulate the various issues to be faced: limiting mortality, particularly that of engineers; ensure the health of soldiers (for example by ensuring their food) ; neutralize the frequent opposition of the bourgeoisie, a source of treason ; reduce desertion by combating forced enlistments; orga- provide housing for officers and soldiers; ensure seat logistics, in particular food and fire provisions; modernize weapons; soul- improve cannon shooting techniques; design bastioned forms which resist as long as possible an attacker who will have to invest a place with a disproportionate number of soldiers”

The references for this passage and the one that follows are:

  1. G. Monsaingeon, Vauban un militaire très civil, op. cit., p. 70.
  2. A. Blanchard, Vauban, op. cit., p. 387
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    Something happened with the English translation. Are there some sentences missing, or did Google add periods unnecessarily due to the formatting?
    – cmw
    Commented Jun 13 at 18:52
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    @cmw thanks for pointing this out. I will check.
    – Roger V.
    Commented Jun 13 at 20:06

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