A Complete Analysis of Stannis Baratheon as a Military Commander

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“Whatever doubts his lords might nurse, the common men seemed to have faith in their king. Stannis had smashed Mance Rayder’s wildlings at the Wall and cleaned Asha and her ironborn out of Deepwood Motte; he was Robert’s brother, victor in a famous sea battle off Fair Isle, the man who had held Storm’s End all through Robert’s Rebellion. And he bore a hero’s sword, the enchanted blade Lightbringer, whose glow lit up the night.” – ADWD, Chapter 42, The King’s Prize

Introduction

About a month ago, I did a series of posts on Robb Stark as a military commander, and I figured that the next character from the series that I wanted to analyze militarily was Stannis Baratheon. I’m going to try to accomplish it in 3 parts. Part 1 will be looking at Stannis’s military accomplishments in the events leading up the books, part 2 will deal with the War of the Five Kings and part 3 will be an analysis/speculation post on how all this combined information may play out in the upcoming Battle in the Ice.

Stannis Baratheon is a favorite among fans of the series (though much less popular among the in-story characters from ASOIAF). Fans seem to love his dust-dry wit , redemption arc and generally honorable persona, but an aspect of his character that doesn’t get as much mention is his role as a military commander. Stannis is one of the most experienced military commanders in the series. More than experienced, Stannis is a good battlefield commander.

In fact, I believe that through a good grasp on strategy and an even better understanding of tactics, Stannis Baratheon is the most well-rounded military commander in Westeros.


Iron Will: The Siege of Storm’s End

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“I held Storm’s End for him, watching good men starve while Mace Tyrell and Paxter Redwyne feasted within sight of my walls. Did Robert thank me? No. He thanked Stark, for lifting the siege when we were down to rats and radishes. I built a fleet at Robert’s command, took Dragonstone in his name.” – ACOK, Prologue

The second-born son of Lord Steffon Baratheon and Cassana Estermont, Stannis was a serious child who became only more dour with the death of his parents. When his older brother, Robert, rebelled against the Iron Throne, Stannis reluctantly joined with the rebels. Robert tasked Stannis with holding Storm’s End while he marched the majority of his forces west. When Robert was defeated at the Battle of Ashford by the Mace Tyrell (actually Randyll Tarly), it cleared Targaryen loyalist forces to move on Storm’s End. The Tyrell army set up camp outside of the walls of Storm’s End while the royal fleet led by Paxter Redwyne closed off Shipbreaker Bay.

A lesser leader would have capitulated; a lesser leader would have sought honorable terms for surrender, but Stannis did nothing of the sort. His orders were to hold the castle, and he did so at great expense. Here, Stannis demonstrates two aspects of leadership that defined his character as a commander: personal courage and loyalty. He would suffer death before disobeying the orders that his brother had given him.

Aside: More than a few people have asked why Stannis inspires such loyalty among his soldiers. I think the answer comes through the fact that he himself endured the same hardships as his soldiers. Oftentimes, if a commander or leader is ‘down in the mud’ with his troops, his troops will be fiercely loyal and emulate that commander. The fact that there was only one attempt to defect (by Ser Gawen Wylde) speaks to this.

Despite being cut off from the world, Stannis held. He refused to surrender for an entire year. At death’s door, only the timely arrival of Davos’s onion and salt fish kept the entire garrison from starving to death. And so, they continued to hold out against Mace Tyrell.

Following the Battle of the Trident and the Sack of KL, Ned Stark moved his army to relieve the siege of Storm’s End. The Tyrells dipped their banners at the news of the results of the Trident and the approach of Ned Stark and swore fealty to Robert Baratheon.

It is not explicitly stated that Stannis knew how important his task was, but I’d like to think that Stannis was keenly aware that his efforts tied up one of the largest contingents of Targaryen loyalist forces. I’d also like to think that he understood that simply holding Storm’s End for honor’s sake was not enough reason to hold it for an entire year. My guess is that Stannis saw the strategic value in holding the castle.

Robert was unjust in crediting Ned for winning the battle. In fact, Stannis’s actions at Storm’s end directly contributed to Robert’s victory at the Trident. Here’s how the wiki of ice and fire puts it:

Stannis successfully holding the castle aided the rebellion as it meant the Tyrell host could not join Rhaegar Targaryen’s army, which would have swelled the ranks of House Targaryen at the Battle of the Trident.


Amphibious Assault: Dragonstone

After holding Storm’s End for a year, one would think that Stannis would be given a respite from war. But this was not to be the case. Stannis was then tasked to take Dragonstone, the traditional seat of Targaryen power. Utilizing part the turncloak fleet of Paxter Redwyne and building a brand new fleet for his brother, he prepared to invade Dragonstone.

Although we don’t know much about the particulars of the battle itself, we do know that he commanded the invasion of Dragonstone from the deck of his flagship, Fury (ACOK, Davos III). This gave Stannis the best command and control of his forces – perhaps the single-most important tactical aspect of leadership. We also know that Stannis was successful in seizing the island fortress from the last Targaryen hold-outs. But amphibious assaults coupled with sieges are among the most dangerous and difficult tasks an army and navy can perform. His utilization of joint warfare was most likely key to winning the battle there. The fact that he was successful speaks volumes of his tactical adaptability as we do not have evidence he commanded a navy before.

In fact, the only real ‘black mark’ is that Viserys and Daenerys Targaryen escaped to Essos – a ‘failure’ that soured the already cold relationship between Robert and Stannis. But I tend to feel that Stannis is justified in having a grievance against Robert, who blamed him for the loss of the last two Targaryens.

“I built a fleet at Robert’s command, took Dragonstone in his name. Did he ever take my hand and say, Well done, brother, whatever should I do without you? No, he blamed me for letting Willem Darry steal away Viserys and the babe, as if I could have stopped it.” – ACOK, Prologue


Shaping Operations: Fair Isle and Great Wyk

In the end the Golden Storm went down off Fair Isle during Balon’s first rebellion, cut in half by a towering war galley called Fury when Stannis Baratheon caught Victarion in his trap and smashed the Iron Fleet. – AFFC, Chapter 1, The Prophet

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Map of Greyjoy Rebellion

Despite Robert and Stannis’s differences, Robert gave Stannis the castle of Dragonstone either as a slight or a signal of Stannis’s role as heir . Additionally, Stannis became Master of Ships – most likely as a result of his naval actions on Dragonstone during Robert’s Rebellion.

But the peace that Robert’s Rebellion ushered in did not last for long. Six years following the end of Robert’s Rebellion, Balon Greyjoy declared the Iron Islands independent of the Iron Throne and crowned himself King of the Iron Islands. Not known for being the soundest strategic mind, Balon did have his reasons:

[Why did Balon Greyjoy rebel the first time?]

Yes. Obviously Balon was wrong, but he believed that Robert, as a usurper, might not have the strong support of the other lords the way that a Targaryen king would have. He also thought he could defeat Robert at sea. – So Spake Martin, July 27, 2008

The Greyjoys struck before Robert could assemble. Victarion Greyjoy and the Iron Fleet sailed into Lannisport and burned the Lannister fleet that was preparing to sail against the Greyjoys. This brazen surprise attack put the Iron Throne on defense. Ironborn raided the West and Rodrik Greyjoy laid siege to Seaguard. Basically, the Greyjoy rebellion got off to a great start, and it may have continued except for a certain Master of Ships.

Stannis, being the master of ships, joined the royal fleet with his former enemy, Paxter Redwyne and sailed north on the Sunset Sea. Off the coast of Fair Isle, he laid a trap for Victarion Greyjoy. Here’s how Victarion remembers it:

The memory of Fair Isle still rankled in the iron captain’s memory. Stannis Baratheon had descended on the Iron Fleet from both north and south whilst they were trapped in the channel between the island and the mainland, dealing Victarion his most crushing defeat. – ADWD, Chapter 56, Victarion I – (I am indebted to /u/Ailite and /u/kidcoda for pointing me in the right direction and quoting the text respectively. Thanks to you both!)

Stannis’s careful selection of the point where the Iron Fleet was decisive in destroying the Ironborn’s greatest advantage: seapower. With Ironborn seapower destroyed, Robert and his army could move easily into the Iron Islands and destroy the Greyjoy Rebellion.

Stannis performed what is known as a shaping operation . Army Field Manual 3.0 defines a shaping operation as:

An operation at any echelon that creates and preserves conditions for the success of the decisive operation. Shaping operations establish conditions for the decisive operation through effects on the enemy, population (including local leaders), and terrain.

The actions of Stannis and his fleet cleared the Sunset Sea of the Iron Fleet and allowed for Robert and Ned to ferry soldiers into Pyke for the main assault against the base of Greyjoy power. And while Robert took Pyke, Stannis led the successful invasion of Great Wyck.

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The Strategic Picture at the Start of A Clash of Kings

Stannis Baratheon is introduced to the readers in the prologue of A Clash of Kings. I don’t want to get too bogged down with the how Stannis came to view himself as the rightful king of Westeros. Suffice to say that when his older brother Robert died, Stannis believed that the children of Robert Baratheon and Cersei Lannister were not Robert’s. Being the second son of Steffon Baratheon, Stannis was the heir to Robert if Robert had no trueborn sons. Believing Robert had no trueborn heirs, he prepared to fight his way to the throne. For more on Westerosi succession, I highly recommend /u/galanix ‘s post on it.

Unfortunately for Stannis, there were other claimants to the throne, including his brother. Shortly after the death of Robert, Renly Baratheon, the youngest Baratheon son, crowned himself King and secured Tyrell loyalty by marrying Margaery, the daughter of Lord Mace Tyrell. Robb Stark, son of Eddard, defeated the Lannisters in battle and declared himself King in the North and the Greyjoys were preparing to declare their own independence.

With Renly claiming the loyalty of most Stormland lords, Stannis was denied a regional base to build his army. He was well aware of the numerical inferiority of his army as well as the superiority of his enemies.

It was said that Stannis knew the strength of every house in the Seven Kingdoms. – A Clash of Kings, Prologue

However small his army was, Stannis had superiority in one key element: his navy. Drawing from about 100 ships of the royal fleet and an additional 100 sellsail ships, Stannis could boast in having naval superiority if not supremacy along the east coast of Westeros.

Besides military strength, Stannis had something else going for him: Melisandre of Asshai. Lacking much in the way of religious motivation himself, Stannis became a nominal believer in R’hillor, the Lord of Light. He used Melisandre as a means of projecting this eastern ethereal power into Westeros. And while Melisandre and R’hillor are unpopular, their power will come to have great strategic and tactical significance at Storm’s End.


Force Multiplication and Unsavory Tactics

“I was helping Renly into his armor, and the candles blew out and there was blood everywhere. It was Stannis, Lady Catelyn said. His … his shadow.” – A Storm of Swords, Chapter 62, Jaimie VII

Recognizing that his was an untenable position, Stannis acted decisively. He sailed from Dragonstone and besieged Storm’s End while Renly was still slowly making his way up the Rose Road. Unable to take the fortress by force of arms, Stannis surrounded the castle with his meager force and blockaded it from the sea. But Renly was coming. He left the majority of his infantry at Bitterbridge and rode hard with his cavalry for Storm’s End.

Here, I’m not entirely sure what Stannis planned to do in this situation. It would seem that he wanted to seize Storm’s End by force as opposed to giving a long siege to the castle.

Stannis Baratheon’s foragers had cut the trees down for his siege towers and catapults. – A Clash of Kings, Chapter 31, Catelyn III

But what was his plan when Renly arrived? Did he expect Renly to capitulate to his claim during their parlay? I guess we’re led to believe that Stannis expects to win Renly over on the strength of his claim, or more that Melisandre has seen Renly die in her flames, so he doesn’t put a lot of thought into the battle itself. Still though, it would be unlike Stannis not to have a plan. Renly had 20,000-odd soldiers to Stannis’s maybe 5,000. Barring an act of God, Stannis would face destruction.

As Stannis and Renly rode back to their camps, everyone expected Renly to triumph over Stannis. Some of Renly’s lords cautioned Renly to wait for his infantry to arrive. Others such as Randyll Tarly urged speed. None of it mattered. Unbeknownst to Renly (or Stannis himself), Stannis had a weapon which would change the outcome of the war: Melisandre and her Shadow Assassins.

The U.S. Army has a 3:1 rule when attacking or defending. However that ratio can be altered by what are known as force multipliers defined as:

A capability that, when added to and employed by a combat force, significantly increases the combat potential of that force and thus enhances the probability of successful mission accomplishment. Department of Defense Joint Publication 3-05.1, pg 394

Melisandre’s Shadow Assassin was a force multiplier in that it increased the combat potential (defined very narrowly in this case) of Stannis’s force. When Renly was killed by the shadow baby, the odds of Stannis’s success improved. Most of the soldiers under Renly’s command defected to Stannis as they had nowhere else to go. Without Renly, the loyalty of most of the Stormlander lords and their bannermen came to Stannis. But key leaders from the Reach, to include Loras Tyrell and Randyll Tarly, fled back to Bitterbridge to join with the rest of Mace Tyrell’s army.

With Renly dead, his army bolstered by ranks of Stormlanders and Florents, Stannis was finally in a position to seize Storm’s End. The only thing standing in his way was a stubborn castellan by the name of Ser Cortnay Penrose.

Cortnay Penrose refused to surrender, because he did not trust Stannis with Edric Storm, Robert’s only acknowledged bastard. Cortnay was not out of bounds with his rationale (as was demonstrated in a Storm of Swords). After insulting R’hillor, Stannis, all the newly-sworn lords of Stannis, Cortnay threw his glove at Stannis and challenged him to single combat.

“Bring on your storm, my lord—and recall, if you do, the name of this castle.” – A Clash of Kings, Chapter 42, Davos II

It would have been foolishness for Stannis to accept or to allow any of his bannermen to fight in his stead. He was assured victory in taking the castle, but he also did not want to storm the castle itself.

Unwilling to lose thousands of his soldiers in taking Storm’s End by force or to let one of his knights or lords face Ser Cortnay Penrose in single combat, Stannis elected to send Melisandre to deal with this stubborn knight. An interesting parallel is that Stannis’s decision mirrors Tywin Lannister’s later justification for the Red Wedding.

“Explain to me why it is more noble to kill ten thousand men in battle than a dozen at dinner.” – A Storm of Swords, Chapter 53, Tyrion VI

The result of utilizing a Shadow Assassin was much as it had been with Renly. A shadow warrior was birthed under the walls of Storm’s End and pushed Ser Cortnay Penrose to his death, the castle surrendered and Stannis prepared to march on King’s Landing.


Moral Culpability?

A question that’s asked frequently is how much Stannis knew about the Shadow Assassin. My answer is that on a conscious level, Stannis did not know about the Shadow Warriors that Melisandre birthed. On a subconscious level, Stannis wracked with guilt at the use of under-handed tactics.

“I dream of it sometimes. Of Renly’s dying. A green tent, candles, a woman screaming. And blood.” Stannis looked down at his hands. “I was still abed when he died. Your Devan will tell you. He tried to wake me. Dawn was nigh and my lords were waiting, fretting. I should have been ahorse, armored. I knew Renly would attack at break of day. Devan says I thrashed and cried out, but what does it matter? It was a dream. I was in my tent when Renly died, and when I woke my hands were clean.” – A Clash of Kings, Chapter 42, Davos II

Stannis’s moral culpability in utilizing this tactic lies in not asking questions, but I don’t believe that Stannis consciously endorsed Shadow Assassins, but I believe that sub-consciously, he feels guilty from it. He also did profit greatly from this tactic.


Disposition of Forces at the Start of the Siege of King’s Landing

Before we start dissecting the famous Siege of King’s Landing, let’s take a quick look at the strength of Stannis, Tyrion and Tywin. I’m borrowing heavily from the wiki of ice and fire for reference.

Baratheons

1. Commanders

  • King Stannis I Baratheon: Overall Commander
  • Ser Guyard Morrigen: Vanguard
  • Ser Imry Florent: Navy
  • Ser Rolland Storm: Rearguard

2. Men and Materials

  • 200 ships
  • 20,000 men at arms, mounted/dismounted knights and light cavalry

Lannisters of King’s Landing

1. Commanders

  • King Joffrey I Baratheon: Nominal Overall Commander
  • Tyrion Lannister: Actual Overall Commander
  • Ser Jacelyn Bywater: City Watch
  • Hallyne: “Pyrotechnics”
  • Shagga: Mountain Clan Raiders

2. Men and Materials

  • 50 ships
  • 6,800 mounted/dismounted Gold Cloaks/Lannister bannermen
    • 2000 “decent” city watchmen recruited during Robert’s reign
    • 4500 “green” city watchmen recruited by Cersei Lannister
    • 300 knights, squires, men-at-arms

Lannisters/Tyrells

1. Commanders

  • Lord Tywin Lannister: Overall Commander/Right Wing
  • Ser Garlan Tyrell (Renly): Vanguard
  • Lord Mace Tyrell: Left Wing
  • Lord Randyll Tarly: Center
  • Ser Loras Tyrell

2. Men and Materials

  • 80,000 soldiers (combination of Tyrell infantry that remained at Bitterbridge during the Siege at Storm’s End and Tyrell/Lannister cavalry.)
  • Barges

Stannis’s Plan

First, let’s talk about Stannis’s strategic objective in seizing King’s Landing. Why was it so important for him to seize the city? For starters, seizing the city contained real propaganda value. Whoever controlled the city and sat the Iron Throne had tangible possession of the throne, not just the metaphysical right to it. In addition to propaganda, holding the city extended his base of power from the Stormlands to the Crownlands. Finally, with a population of 200,000, it would serve as a pool upon which to draw new soldiers into his army.

Prior to his movement from Storm’s End to King’s Landing, Stannis did seek more support from the Tyrells, but the envoys never returned. Stannis feared the worst.

“I sent my wife’s brother Ser Errol with Ser Parmen Crane to take them under my command, but they have not returned. I fear that Ser Loras Tyrell reached Bitterbridge before my envoys, and took that host for his own.” – A Clash of Kings, Chapter 42, Davos II

Now let’s take a look at the battle plan itself. Combining his powerful navy with a now-large army, Stannis prepared to advance on King’s Landing. Even with numerical superiority, the idea of seizing King’s Landing by force of arms was ambitious. King’s Landing had never been seized by force of arms before. (Tywin’s sack doesn’t count as he deceived Aerys II into believing he had come as an ally and only started his sack once his men were within the walls.) In order to accomplish this task, Stannis’s plan called for dividing his forces into two. He placed amphibious infantry (A combination of men at arms and knights that I’m henceforth calling “Marines”) and dismounted knights in ships, while his heavy horse and a contingent of his infantry advanced north from Storm’s End towards Blackwater Rush.

Here’s how Davos perceives the plan:

With four times as many ships as the boy king, Ser Imry saw no need for caution or deceptive tactics. He had organized the fleet into ten lines of battle, each of twenty ships. The first two lines would sweep up the river to engage and destroy Joffrey’s little fleet, or “the boy’s toys” as Ser Imry dubbed them, to the mirth of his lordly captains. Those that followed would land companies of archers and spearmen beneath the city walls, and only then join the fight on the river. The smaller, slower ships to the rear would ferry over the main part of Stannis’s host from the south bank, protected by Salladhor Saan and his Lyseni, who would stand out in the bay in case the Lannisters had other ships hidden up along the coast, poised to sweep down on their rear. – A Clash of Kings, Chapter 58, Davos III

In short, large galleys under the command of Ser Imry would strike up Blackwater Rush and clear the area of Lannister ships. Marines would then seize a foothold at the base of the walls. Then, smaller ships would land on the southern bank of Blackwater Rush, pick up Stannis’s men waiting on the south shore and ferry them across the river to enter the city through the River Gate. Salladhor Saan would have the secondary mission to stay outside of the mouth of the river and screen the amphibious assault. And where would Stannis be?

Stannis was watching too, Tyrion knew. He’d never had his brother Robert’s thirst for battle. He would command from the rear, from the reserve, much as Lord Tywin Lannister was wont to do. Like as not, he was sitting a warhorse right now, clad in bright armor, his crown upon his head. – A Clash of Kings, Chapter 59, Tyrion XIII

Stannis would remain in a position to best command and control his various elements. Unlike the show’s portrayal, Stannis would not be charging the Mud Gate. Instead, he would command and in doing so, would differentiate himself from those like Robb Stark who lead from the front in battles. Sure, most people look at Robb and think, “How admirable, how courageous.” Me, I think Robb was foolish, and the examples of Stannis and Tywin congruent with what a strategic commander is supposed to do. If Stannis dies in battle, the attack fails. Besides, I think Robb’s assault on the Crag and the aftermath makes my point for me.


The March Up

“Whatever you do, don’t try and fight a battle,” Tyrion said. “Strike at their camps and baggage train. Ambush their scouts and hang the bodies from trees ahead of their line of march, loop around and cut down stragglers. I want night attacks, so many and so sudden that they’ll be afraid to sleep – ” – A Clash of Kings, Chapter 49, Tyrion XI

So in keeping with his plan, the fleet sailed up the coast in bad weather, losing a dozen ships, while the majority of his army marched north from Storm’s End. Stannis stayed on board his flagship Fury until the fleet reached Merling Rock. There, Stannis disembarked from his flagship Fury and joined with his ground forces.

Meanwhile, Tyrion Lannister had a few surprises waiting for Stannis as his army moved up through the Kingswood. Tyrion dispatched Shagga and the Mountain Clans to the Kingswood to harry Stannis as he advanced north. Besides sowing fear, the goal of the Mountain Clans was to blind Stannis by killing his scouts and outriders. This will have a greater impact later on in the battle. In this task, Tyrion’s Mountain Clans succeeded.

“Lord Stannis wants to smoke out the Imp’s savages.” Dontos swayed as he spoke, one hand on the trunk of a chestnut tree. A wine stain discolored the red-and-yellow motley of his tunic. “They kill his scouts and raid his baggage train. And the wildlings have been lighting fires too.” – A Clash of Kings, Chapter 52, Sansa IV

Stannis would remain in a position to best command and control his various elements. Unlike the show’s portrayal, Stannis would not be charging the Mud Gate. Instead, he would command and in doing so, would differentiate himself from those like Robb Stark who lead from the front in battles. Sure, most people look at Robb and think, “How admirable, how courageous.” Me, I think Robb was foolish, and the examples of Stannis and Tywin congruent with what a strategic commander is supposed to do. If Stannis dies in battle, the attack fails. Besides, I think Robb’s assault on the Crag and the aftermath makes my point for me.


Blackwater

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Stannis would have reached the Rush days ago. The kingsroad ran from Storm’s End straight to King’s Landing, a much shorter route than by sea, and his host was largely mounted; near twenty thousand knights, light horse, and freeriders, Renly’s unwilling legacy to his brother. They would have made good time, but armored destriers and twelve-foot lances would avail them little against the deep waters of the Blackwater Rush and the high stone walls of the city. Stannis would be camped with his lords on the south bank of the river, doubtless seething with impatience and wondering what Ser Imry had done with his fleet. – A Clash of Kings, Chapter 58, Davos III

Though the Mountain Clans were successful in blinding Stannis, they did not halt his advance on King’s Landing. In fact, Stannis arrived on the southern banks of Blackwater Rush days before the fleet did.

When the fleet did arrive at the mouth of Blackwater, the commander Ser Imry Florent made a fateful decision. Instead of sending scouts to ascertain the size and dispersion of what Tyrion had waiting for him, he committed the majority of his force immediately and only left Salladhor Saan’s screening force outside of the mouth of the river. Ser Imry was not without his reasons. Having lost a dozen ships sailing north, he did not want to lose more ships to acts of God(s). But, this is utter foolishness. Sure, he could lose another ship or two to the sea while a few of his smaller, swifter ships scouted the area ahead, but it doesn’t even take hindsight to believe that committing the bulk of your forces without knowing what’s ahead of you is (and will be) a recipe for disaster.

The entire fleet (minus Salladhor Saan and the Lyseni) advanced towards the city walls and were met by 50-odd Lannister ships. While the fighting was fierce, Stannis’s fleet broke through the first line Lannister fleet and inched closer to the walls where they were met with scorpion and archer fire from the city walls. A few ships managed to land soldiers at the base of the city walls, but the Imp had two more surprises in store for the navy.

Unbeknownst to Stannis, Tyrion had discovered vast quantities of wildfire and planned to use them against Stannis’s fleet. Additionally, Tyrion had spent the months leading up to the siege having the Blacksmith’s Guild construct a giant chain at the mouth of the river. Now, the fleet did know that Tyrion was constructing a chain due to their interrogation of fishermen at Merling Rock (Davos III), but it was unclear to them if the chain was complete. Further evidence of it being non-complete came when they were able to sail into Blackwater Rush unimpeded by a giant chain.

Everyone knows what happens next: Lannister ships laden with wildfire exploded in the bay destroying much of Stannis’s fleet. Those ships able to navigate from the fire soon found themselves trapped between approaching wildfire and the giant chain that was raised between two towers at the mouth of Blackwater Rush.

Fun historical aside: I believe that George RR Martin was influenced in writing this portion of the siege by The Second Arab Siege of Constantinople 717-718 where the Byzantines defeated a massive Arab land and naval invasion through the utilization of Greek Fire and a giant chain that protected the harbor of Constantinople from the Arab fleet. As an undergrad, I majored in history and specialized in the Byzantine Empire. If you all have any questions about the battle and comparisons to Blackwater, feel free to ask in the comments below!


Improvise, Adapt and (Almost) Overcome: Battle of the Ships

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We made them a bloody bridge, he thought in dismay. Parts of the bridge were sinking and other parts were afire and the whole thing was creaking and shifting and like to burst asunder at any moment, but that did not seem to stop them. “Those are brave men,” he told Ser Balon in admiration. “Let’s go kill them.” – A Clash of Kings, Chapter 61, Tyrion XIV

Only 8 ships were able to land the marines below the walls of King’s Landing before the fleet was destroyed by wildfire and the chain – a force too small to take the city by itself. All probably seemed lost to Stannis and his men until Tyrion’s own plan had the second-order effect of creating a bridge of ships across Blackwater Rush.

A common saying among military leaders (first said by Helmuth von Molke the elder) is that “No campaign plan survives first contact with the enemy.” A follow-up maxim (and unofficial slogan of the United States Marine Corps) is “Improvise, Adapt and Overcome.” Both apply to the actions of Stannis’s army at this stage of the battle. We don’t know whether it was Stannis himself, a subordinate lord or the troops themselves who made the quick decision to cross the bridge of ships. What we do know is that Stannis’s soldiers crossed the burning, creaking bridge of ships towards the River Gate, bringing a ram along with them.

At the same time, Stannis landed (and I’m not sure where he got the ships) troops outside of the King’s Gate at the southwestern point in the city. Tyrion sent sorties of mounted soldiers out to confront the threat. While they were able to stymie Stannis’s assaults against the River Gate and the King’s Gate, they were unable to stop it and took heavy losses from Stannis’s soldiers.

Many soldiers, including Sandor Clegane, began to desert Tyrion. In a last ditch attempt to save the city or go down with the ship, Tyrion led a final assault against Stannis’s besiegers at the River Gate. He successfully repelled the attackers at the River Gate and then moved with his sortie towards the bridge of ships where he was nearly fragged by Ser Mandon Moore.

With Tyrion thought dead, the last of the defenders retreated back into the city itself. Victory seemed assured for Stannis until Renly arrived.


Bad Luck Arrives

Lord Tywin himself had their right wing on the north side of the river, with Randyll Tarly commanding the center and Mace Tyrell the left, but the vanguard won the fight. They plunged through Stannis like a lance through a pumpkin, every man of them howling like some demon in steel. – A Clash of Kings, Chapter 62: Sansa VII

By necessity and circumstance, Stannis’s army was split between the north and south banks of Blackwater Rush. I know that there’s an ongoing project to recreate the Siege of King’s Landing visually. Unfortunately, I’m not nearly skilled enough to draw up even a detailed map. For now, use this map  and imagine Stannis’s army split between the north and south banks of Blackwater Rush with a contingents at the King’s Gate (#26 on the map) and the River Gate (#18 on the map).

At this point, Tywin and his new Tyrell allies arrived. In an alliance orchestrated by Petyr Baelish, the Lannisters and Tyrells joined together to defeat Stannis. Lord Tywin Lannister temporarily abandoned his Riverlands campaign against Robb Stark and marched south to Bitterbridge. Now how he and the Tyrells were able to move so rapidly from Harrenhal to Bitterbridge to King’s Landing is not described in a Clash of Kings. Rather, we only have the Blackfish’s description in A Storm of Swords to go on:

“When you stopped Lord Tywin on the Red Fork,” said the Blackfish, “you delayed him just long enough for riders out of Bitterbridge to reach him with word of what was happening to the east. Lord Tywin turned his host at once, joined up with Matthis Rowan and Randyll Tarly near the headwaters of the Blackwater, and made a forced march to Tumbler’s Falls, where he found Mace Tyrell and two of his sons waiting with a huge host and a fleet of barges. They floated down the river, disembarked half a day’s ride from the city, and took Stannis in the rear.” – A Storm of Swords, Chapter 14: Catelyn II

You might ask how the Lannisters and Tyrells were able to advance on Stannis’s force undetected. Here, Tyrion’s Mountain Clans come into play. They had effectively blinded Stannis by killing his scouts. In a similar way, Robb was able to achieve complete surprise on Jaimie Lannister and his army outside of Riverrun by denying the Lannisters intelligence through their scouts. The same applies here. Shagga’s Mountain Clans denied Stannis the ability to see the wider battlefield and the approaching threat.

Tywin’s vanguard led by Ser Garlan Tyrell, dressed in the armor of Renly Baratheon, smashed through Stannis’s forces outside of the King’s Gate and then moved to smash Stannis’s forces at the River Gate. More than smashing through Stannis, the appearance of Renly caused many former bannermen of Renly’s to immediately switch sides. During this phase of the battle, the commander of Stannis’s vanguard, Ser Guyard Morrigen, was killed.

There’s some confusion though, Stannis army north of the river is destroyed, but a force of Lannisters, Tyrells or Tarlys engages Stannis’s force at the south bank at some point during the battle. In fact, were it not for the actions of (my favorite minor-minor character) Ser Rolland Storm, Stannis himself would have been killed or captured during the battle.

The Bastard of Nightsong had commanded the rearguard that allowed Stannis to reach the safety of Salladhor Saan’s galleys. – A Storm of Swords, Chapter 54, Davos V


Hindsight

Stannis was only able to flee with about 2000 soldiers. They escaped onto the galleys that Salladhor Saan had positioned as a screening force at the mouth of Blackwater Rush. Utterly defeated, he retreated with his last few soldiers to Dragonstone.

For a moment though, let’s consider Stannis plan. Was it a good plan? Absolutely. Utilizing his numerical advantage over the defenders of King’s Landing, his idea of landing a force of marines under the River Gate was solid. Keeping the bulk of his forces out of danger until necessary was also excellent. Utilizing land and naval forces to seize the city was excellent and may have mirrored his earlier assault on Dragonstone during Robert’s Rebellion.

Did the plan work? Kind-of. Despite the wildfire and chain, the attack kept its forward momentum all the way until Tywin arrived. Granted, both the wildfire and chain slowed Stannis’s army, but it didn’t stop them.

But, were there flaws in Stannis’s plan? Was there anything that could have been done differently? Yes to both. I’ll number the points to make them easier to read than the gigantic wall of text above.

  1. Give explicit instructions to Ser Imry Florent not to rush headlong into Blackwater without knowing what’s ahead of you. Order Ser Imry to send scouting ships ahead.

    Had he been admiral, he might have done it all differently. For a start, he would have sent a few of his swiftest ships to probe upriver and see what awaited them, instead of smashing in headlong. – A Clash of Kings, Chapter 58, Davos III

  2. Clear the Kingswood of the Mountain Clans prior to besieging the city.
  3. After clearing the Kingswood, push outriders and scouts out to the north, south and west.
  4. Set up skirmish lines behind scouts to slow any potential attack from without.
  5. Have a reserve near enough to the battle to be called upon if necessary but far enough away so that if things go south, they won’t be directly engaged.

Introduction to the Stannis’s War in the North

“We do not choose our destinies. Yet we must… we must do our duty, no? Great or small, we must do our duty.” – A Storm of Swords, Chapter 54, Davos V

In the first three installments of this series, we discussed Stannis during Robert’s Rebellion and the Greyjoy Rebellion, Stannis at Storm’s End and the siege of King’s Landing. Today’s installment will take a look at Stannis’s War in the North.

What I hope to show is that despite the loss of most of his combat power at King’s Landing, Stannis discovers his true strategic purpose, and then utilizes excellent cavalry/maneuver warfare tactics to achieve his greatest victory.


The Strategic Picture at the Start of A Storm of Swords

“Lord Celtigar was captured and bent the knee. Monford Velaryon died with his ship, the red woman burned Sunglass, and Lord Bar Emmon is fifteen, fat, and feeble. Those are your lords of the narrow sea. Only the strength of House Florent is left to Stannis, against all the might of Highgarden, Sunspear, and Casterly Rock, and now most of the storm lords as well.” – A Storm of Swords, Chapter 25, Davos III

Following Stannis’s defeat at King’s Landing, the tattered remnants of his force retreated to Dragonstone. Of the 25,000 soldiers he marched on King’s Landing with, perhaps 2000 remained, most of them Florent men. Of the 200 ships he sailed on King’s Landing with, only Salladhor Saan’s Lyseni sellsails remained (29 ships by ADWD). To make matters worse, many of the lords who had previously supported Stannis were now dead or turncloak. Stannis was short men, money and supporters. He needed new allies. Tywin Lannister recognized as much:

“If he is gone, it can only mean he intends to resume the war. Most likely he will land at Storm’s End and try and rouse the storm lords. If so, he’s finished. But a bolder man might roll the dice for Dorne. If he should win Sunspear to his cause, he might prolong this war for years.” A Storm of Swords, Chapter 72, Jaimie IX

More than losing his army, Davos Seaworth, his best advisor, was presumed dead. Without Davos, Stannis was left only with Melisandre and Alester Florent as his advisors. Both were lacking. Alester had lost faith in the cause, if he ever had any to begin with while Melisandre sowed fear and mistrust among his few remaining supporters by burning people to R’hllor.

Had it not been for the unexpected return of Davos, Stannis would have most likely suffered an ignominious end at Dragonstone.


Sailing from Dragonstone: Regaining the Strategic Initiative:

“Yes, I should have come sooner. If not for my Hand, I might not have come at all. Lord Seaworth is a man of humble birth, but he reminded me of my duty, when all I could think of was my rights. I had the cart before the horse, Davos said. I was trying to win the throne to save the kingdom, when I should have been trying to save the kingdom to win the throne.” – A Storm of Swords, Chapter 76, Jon XI

The story of Davos’s return to Dragonstone and rise from the dungeons is one of my favorite stories from ASOS, but unfortunately I’m going to have to leave most of that to other posts or else this post will be longer than pt 3. After Davos’s return and imprisonment for attempted murder, he was elevated to lord and Hand of the King. In that position, Davos learned to read from Maester Pylos.

Meanwhile far to the north, the Free Folk under the command of Mance Rayder were advancing south with the intention to overwhelm the Night’s Watch, breach the wall and escape the advance of the Others. Ravens were sent by the Night’s Watch to the various kings of Westeros requesting military assistance to defeat the threat of Wildling invasion. One of those letters reached Dragonstone and was read by Davos Seaworth.

Davos’s last POV chapter in ASOS ends with him telling Stannis about the letter from the watch. While we don’t know what occurred in real-time, we do know the results of the conversation. Stannis left a token force at Dragonstone under the command of Ser Rolland Storm and sailed with the majority of his force for the Wall in hopes of defending the realm. In moving to defend Westeros from external threat, Stannis distinguishes himself from the other kings in the eyes of lords and commonfolk alike, and in doing so, regains the strategic initiative. As an added benefit, this strategic refooting opens up the opportunity for Stannis to acquire new allies and soldiers in a region which is still leaderless after the fall of Robb Stark. (Remember: Roose Bolton doesn’t arrive north of the Neck until after well after Stannis arrives at Castle Black).

But still, there was the fact that the force Stannis took to the Wall was small and the Wildling host was 10 times larger than the force Stannis brought north with him.


Battle at the Wall: Surprise and Mobility

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“Something’s coming.” Varamyr sat crosslegged on the half-frozen ground, his wolves circled restlessly around him. A shadow swept over him, and Jon looked up to see the eagle’s blue-grey wings. “Coming, from the east.” – A Storm of Swords, Chapter 73, Jon X

Stannis arrived at Eastwatch-by-the-sea with his small host. He could not have come at a more dire time. Castle Black was under attack by a massive host of Wildlings, giants and mammoths. Though able to successfully repel the first few assaults on the gate in front of Castle Black, the Night’s Watch was too small to continuously hold off against the Wildlings.

With time of the essence, Stannis left his infantry at Eastwatch and took an entirely mounted force of Night’s Watchmen and his own knights and cavalry and advanced west at a rapid pace. In previous installments, we saw Stannis as a good naval commander, good defender and unlucky besieger. Here, we see Stannis at his best as the greatest maneuver commander this side of Brynden Blackfish and Robb Stark.

It was from them that he learned about the battle beneath the Wall. “Stannis landed his knights at Eastwatch, and Cotter Pyke led him along the ranger’s roads, to take the wildlings unawares,” Giant told him. “He smashed them. Mance Rayder was taken captive, a thousand of his best slain, including Harma Dogshead. The rest scattered like leaves before a storm, we heard.” – A Storm of Swords, Chapter 75, Samwell IV

The plan was simple and direct. When Stannis and Cotter Pyke were near the Wildling camp, he divided his combined force in to 3 parts. The Night’s Watch, under command of Cotter Pyke, struck first, attacking the left flank of the Wildling lines. Mance Raydar rallied his forces to confront this threat while Stannis positioned his main thrust to the north and northeast of the Wildling host. With the Wildling host fighting the Night’s Watch on the left flank, Stannis initiated his attack by having Melisandre burn Varamyr’s eagle. And then the main attack began from the north and northeast of the Wildling lines.

The mammoths had shattered the center column, but the other two were closing like pincers. On the eastern edge of the camps, some archers were loosing fire arrows at the tents. – A Storm of Swords, Chapter 73, Jon X

Stannis performed what is known as a (partial) pincer movement . While one flank was engaged, the main force struck the rear of the camp, shooting fire arrows at the tents and blowing horns. This caused mass confusion among the Wildlings and sent the mammoths into a rage. In this, Stannis achieved a single envelopment while giving the Wildlings an avenue to flee. And while some may think that giving a lane to the Wildlings was foolishness. I disagree. Completely surrounded, the Wildlings are able to reform and Stannis is forced to fight man to man with an army 10 times his size. In that scenario, Stannis mostly likely loses the battle.

With much of the camp on fire and Wildling forces in complete dissaray, Stannis’s knights charged Mance’s lines. The Wildlings (save for the Giants) broke en-masse. Amidst the chaos, Stannis’s men charged against them again.

And through the smoke another wedge of armored riders came, on barded horses. Floating above them were the largest banners yet, royal standards as big as sheets; a yellow one with long pointed tongues that showed a flaming heart, and another like a sheet of beaten gold, with a black stag prancing and rippling in the wind.

Robert, Jon thought for one mad moment, remembering poor Owen, but when the trumpets blew again and the knights charged, the name they cried was “Stannis! Stannis! STANNIS!” – A Storm of Swords, Chapter 73, Jon X

http://awoiaf.westeros.org/images/thumb/6/68/Tomasz_Jedruszek_Stannis_at_the_Wall.jpg/350px-Tomasz_Jedruszek_Stannis_at_the_Wall.jpg


The War in the North Continues

“With this sword I defend my subjects and destroy those who menace them.” – A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 10, Jon III

At long last, we come to the final section of this series on Stannis Baratheon. Previous portions relied mostly on the books with elements of military tactics and strategy intermingled to help us better understand why Stannis was so successful and balanced as a commander. Today, the first half will focus on War in the North while the second half of this post will take a look at the Siege of Winterfell and speculate on what tactics Stannis will use and what I think the overall outcome will be. I’ll do my best to base my theories off what we know of Stannis from the books, but I’d be lying if I didn’t let you all know that some of it will be a SWAG (Those of you with a military background may be familiar with the acronym).

To the surprise of everyone, Stannis Baratheon acquires new allies in the North, utilizes deception to defeat the Ironborn at Deepwood Motte and in my opinion will use terrain and deception to defeat the Freys and Boltons outside of Winterfell.


Iron Bends: Making Allies

“When the cold winds rise, we shall live or die together. It is time we made alliance against our common foe.” – A Storm of Swords, Chapter 76, Jon XI

When we last left Stannis, he had defeated Mance Rayder at the Wall. His actions saved the Night’s Watch from being overrun by the Wildlings as well as set him up as the one king who finally put the welfare of the kingdom (the horse) ahead of the cart (the Iron Throne).

With the Wildlings dead or routed and the Wall secure, Stannis moved to secure new allies in his struggle. In doing so, he recognizes that the true threat to Westeros doesn’t involve false claimants to the throne, but rather the enemy that’s coming for all mankind: The Others.

“Demons made of snow and ice and cold,” said Stannis Baratheon. “The ancient enemy. The only enemy that matters.” – A Storm of Swords, Chapter 78, Samwell V

His first attempt to create a new ally does not go to plan. The power vacuum that’s left in the wake of Robb Stark’s death creates an opportunity for Stannis to gain supporters, but Stannis wisely realizes that he cannot hope to win without naming a true Northerner to the position of Warden. More than a true Northerner, he needed a Stark in Winterfell:

“Your father’s lands are bleeding, and I have neither the strength nor the time to stanch the wounds. What is needed is a Lord of Winterfell. A loyal Lord of Winterfell.” – A Storm of Swords, Chapter 76, Jon XI

And while Stannis’s plan doesn’t work and Jon Snow is instead elected to the position of Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, it shows good strategic depth. In singling Jon out, he hopes to rally the Northern lords to his side while recognizing that he cannot stop the hemorrhaging of the North. For that, he needed a Northerner with the name of Stark.

Stannis’s other attempts to gain allies go similarly poorly. Though the Karstarks declare for Stannis, most others side with the Boltons or remain on the fence.

“Two score ravens were sent out,” the king complained, “yet we get no response but silence and defiance. Homage is the duty every leal subject owes his king. Yet your father’s bannermen all turn their back on me, save the Karstarks.” – A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 3, Jon I

Even children refuse to give him allegiance.

Stannis read from the letter. “Bear Island knows no king, but the King in the North whose name is STARK.”

Left with few allies, Stannis sent further envoys to the Umbers while sending his Onion Knight to White Harbor to gain the allegiance of Wyman Manderly. But Jon Snow makes Stannis aware of more potential allies:

“Where are these men?”

“You’ll find them here.” Jon spread his burned hand across the map, west of the kingsroad and south of the Gift.

“Those mountains?” Stannis grew suspicious. “I see no castles marked there. No roads, no towns, no villages.”

“The map is not the land, my father often said. Men have lived in the high valleys and mountain meadows for thousands of years, ruled by their clan chiefs. Petty lords, you would call them, though they do not use such titles amongst themselves. Clan champions fight with huge two-handed greatswords, while the common men sling stones and batter one another with staffs of mountain ash. A quarrelsome folk, it must be said. When they are not fighting one another, they tend their herds, fish the Bay of Ice, and breed the hardiest mounts you’ll ever ride.” – A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 17, Jon IV

As an aside, I want to take a short detour and look at Donal Noye’s quote about Stannis from ACOK. Donal Noye was the former smith and first sword to Stannis. He died defeating Mag the Mighty just prior to Stannis’s arrival at the Wall. His opinion of Stannis was nuanced:

“Stannis is pure iron, black and hard and strong, yes, but brittle, the way iron gets. He’ll break before he bends.” – A Clash of Kings, Chapter 6, Jon I

Noye’s quote is interesting, and it seems plausible at first. However, I think he’s wrong here. Stannis bends throughout the series. He’s not so iron-willed that he follows his own will blindly. Instead, he listens to counsel and heeds it when it seems the most prudent course of action. His two closest advisers: Melisandre and Davos give Stannis advice that Stannis sometimes bends to. More so, Stannis’s quest for justice does not preclude him from working with former enemies. He fought alongside Paxter Redwyne at Dragonstone and Fair Isle, despite the fact that Paxter spent a year blockading Stannis at Storm’s End. Moreover, his history of working with former enemies occurred before the Siege of Storm’s End.

“These pardoned lords would do well to reflect on that. Good men and true will fight for Joffrey, wrongly believing him the true king. A northman might even say the same of Robb Stark. But these lords who flocked to my brother’s banners knew him for a usurper. They turned their backs on their rightful king for no better reason than dreams of power and glory, and I have marked them for what they are. Pardoned them, yes. Forgiven. But not forgotten.” A Clash of Kings, Chapter 42, Davos II

In effect, I believe that Stannis was as much steel as his brother, Robert, was.


Deception and Tactical Agility: Deepwood Motte

Jon glanced down at the map. “Deepwood Motte.” He tapped it with a finger. “If Bolton means to fight the Ironmen, so must you.” – A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 17, Jon IV

Stannis’s original plan was to march to the Last Hearth, pick up Mors Umber and his men and then besiege the Dreadfort, seat of the Boltons. Lord Roose Bolton had been named Warden of the North by the Lannisters. In order to secure the North against the threat of the Others, Stannis needed to defeat the Boltons. But first, he was counseled By Lord Commander Snow to fight the Ironborn at Deepwood Motte.

Seizing Deepwood Motte would serve three strategic goals:

  1. In defeating the Ironborn, Stannis eliminates a peripheral threat prior to moving on Winterfell or the Dreadfort. While the Ironborn in the North are weakened following the Kingsmoot and withdraw of Victarion and most of his men and ships, they can still cut Stannis off from his supplies and reave in his rear (that came out strange-sounding).
  2. By seizing Deepwood Motte and returning it to the Glovers, he would potentially gain the support of one of the more powerful houses in the North.
  3. Most importantly, by defeating the Ironborn, Stannis demonstrates his value to the North by fighting non-Northmen first and potentially gains the loyalty of more Northern lords than the Glovers themselves by setting himself up as a good alternative to the Boltons.

And so Stannis departed Castle Black for the foothills along the shore of the Bay of Ice with about 1500 Southron soldiers. There, he gained the loyalty of the Mountain Clans and about 3000 new soldiers. With this now 4500-man army, he moved on Deepwood Motte.

The plan was simple and smart. To take Deepwood, Stannis would need to utilize the terrain and cover that the forest outside of the castle provided. Only at the last possible moment would he move on the castle itself. To accomplish this, Stannis’s Mountain Clans took pine branches and trees to camouflage themselves as they approached the castle.

Then she realized that trees were creeping closer. “Oho,” she laughed, “these mountain goats have cloaked themselves in pine boughs.” The woods were on the move, creeping toward the castle like a slow green tide. – A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 26, The Wayward Bride

They also sent 4 scouts ahead, most likely with the intention of opening the gate for Stannis host to move into the castle easily. Unfortunately the scouts were discovered and killed. Outnumbered and in a poor defensive position, Asha Greyjoy commanded her soldiers to abandon the castle and retreat east for the ships at Sea Dragon Point.

Hoping to evade pursuit, Asha moved south and southwest as opposed to the direct west and north approach towards Sea Dragon Point. It would have been a good tactic, but Stannis’s Mountain Clans found them and attacked them at night most likely by tracking them and I’d posit that Stannis had scouts that watched every potential direction where the Ironborn could retreat. The battle was predictable. Outnumbered and fighting in the dark, the Ironborn fought hard but were soon overwhelmed.

The victory was total. Stannis secured Glover and Mormont loyalty. With his western flank secure and new soldiers about to be added to his ranks, Stannis planned his next move.


The March to Winterfell

The crofter’s village stood between two lakes, the larger dotted with small wooded islands that punched up through the ice like the frozen fists of some drowned giant. From one such island rose a weirwood gnarled and ancient, its bole and branches white as the surrounding snows. – A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 62, The Sacrifice

In order to rescue “Arya” Stark and defeat the Boltons/Freys and their “allies”, Stannis set out from Deepwood Motte to Winterfell. Besides rescuing “Arya”, Stannis’s attack on Winterfell serves the purpose of further legitimizing himself to the North and de-legitimizing the Boltons. The movement southeast doesn’t go well. While the march begins at a brisk pace, Stannis and his army encountered their most formidable foe yet: Winter. Their pace slowed as a blizzard conditions set in. The march finally stopped 3 days ride from Winterfell in the Wolfswood at a village between two lakes. There, he is finally joined by the Mormont, Karstark and Glover soldiers. Unbeknownst to Stannis, the Karstarks are secretly loyal to the Boltons.

Unsure of where exactly Stannis’s army is but eager to rid Winterfell of quarrelsome lords, Lord Roose Bolton prepares to send the Freys and Manderlys on a movement to contact mission against Stannis. But before they can be dispatched, Mors Umber sounds horns outside of the walls of Winterfell, luring the Freys into charging out of the gates and into pits that he and his green boys had dug under the cover of the blizzard.

Stannis’s story from ADWD ends with arrival of Tycho Nestoris with information that the Karstarks are traitors.


Lakes and Trees: The Battle in the Ice

“Tell me, turncloak, what battles has the Bastard of Bolton ever won that I should fear him?” – TWOW, Theon Sample Chapter

Now we get to the fun speculation part on how I think the battle is going to go. First, I think we can safely judge from all the evidence that we’ve seen so far that Stannis is not going into the battle unprepared. The man has a plan, and I daresay if I’m right, it’s his best plan yet. Before I go too much further, I am indebted to this theory for putting the thought into my head. First: one big point:

I believe that Stannis chose the place where his march halted in hopes of luring his enemies to fight in that spot.

“We hold the ground, and that I mean to turn to our advantage.”

“The ground?” said Theon. “What ground? Here? This misbegotten tower? This wretched little village? You have no high ground here, no walls to hide beyond, no natural defenses.” “Yet.”

“Yet,” both ravens screamed in unison. Then one quorked, and the other muttered, “Tree, tree, tree.” – TWOW, Theon Sample Chapter

The village where they’re located is essentially a land bridge between two lakes. This mitigates any numerical advantage Bolton might be able to bring on Stannis’s host. Additionally, the Frey men that Lord Bolton dispatched are unfamiliar with the terrain in and around Winterfell. Here’s what I think the plan is:

  1. With Bolton scouts disappearing, I don’t believe that the Freys will know much of what is ahead of them. As the Freys (and Manderlys) are mounted, they will seek to use their speed and horse to attack Stannis’s flank from two sides. Both sides are bordered by frozen lakes, but wouldn’t appear to be lakes in poor visibility and without knowledge of the terrain. Additionally, the trees growing from the lakes themselves will serve to camouflage the presence of two large bodies of water.
  2. Stannis’s soldiers have been puncturing holes in the lakes ostensibly for fish, but I believe that they are deliberately weakening the ice in preparation for an attack.

    “I know them lakes. You been on them like maggots on a corpse, hundreds o’ you. Cut so many holes in the ice it’s a bloody wonder more haven’t fallen through. Out by the island, there’s places look like a cheese the rats been at.” – A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 62, The Sacrifice

So my theory for how the upcoming battle happens goes something like this: The Freys and Manderlys split their forces. They discover Stannis’s camp. The Freys attack one side of the camp (probably the one with the Weirwood Tree in the center). The lake collapses, killing hundreds of Freys. The Manderlys do not attack Stannis’s other flank but hold back their forces and then cut down the fleeing Freys in retribution for the Red Wedding. I am not sure if the Manderlys will join with Stannis at that point or even at all if the Northern Conspiracy is true.


Conclusion

What happens beyond the Battle in the Ice is up to speculation. In my “best of all possible worlds” scenario in my mind, Manderly and Stannis join up, dress some of Stannis soldiers in Frey surcoats, take Stannis’s sword and infiltrate Winterfell. In the dead of night, these infiltrators kill all the guards and let Stannis’s entire host slip through the gate and go apeshit over the Freys and Boltons. But we know that GRRM can always pull the rug under that. Perhaps Stannis’s men kill the Manderlys, unaware of their dubious loyalty to the Boltons. Perhaps Stannis does indeed die like the Pink Letter says.

In classical Greece, military leaders were expected to not have a myopic focus on either land or sea command. Greek Strategoi had the dual role of leading both the army and navy in peace and war, and they were expected to win both at land and sea. In a way, Stannis is the perfect strategos. His ability to win decisively at land and sea is a testament to this. At the beginning, I stated that my main goal was to portray Stannis as the most balanced commander of the War of the Five Kings, and I hope that I demonstrated Stannis as a strong defender and good naval commander.

Stannis was the true Strategoi of Westeros. Though sometimes beaten, he was never (at this telling) destroyed in battle. It’s been an absolute pleasure writing all of these segments on Stannis. Comments are welcome below.

11 Comments

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11 responses to “A Complete Analysis of Stannis Baratheon as a Military Commander

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  4. Oyen

    THIS WAS ABSOLUTELY MAGNIFICENT! Lets hear your analysis of Tywin Lannister, So far he’s been my favourite. Cheers mate, Pleasure reading this

  5. DrCruel

    Your analysis is well written and cited. It’s also quite pretty. Unfortunately I cannot agree with your assessment. Indeed Stannis Baratheon comes off from the books as an exceptionally brusque and unimaginative tactician as well as someone with a fairly poor grasp of operational or strategic concerns. He rarely uses indirect stratagems, preferring to simply engage his enemies via an immediate frontal assault. He doesn’t show any real concern for logistics or reconnaissance, nor does he have contingency plans in the event that his attacks go awry. His qualities as a military leader only look relatively high by comparison with his opponents.

    Let us look at his campaign record thus far:

    Storm’s End siege – He most certainly is stubborn. This does not imply military acumen of any sort. In fact, it apparently was relatively easy to penetrate the blockade of this city by sea, as an independent smuggler managed to do so on his own initiative. A more clever commander might have considered options for using this means of resupply long before, but Stannis seemed content instead to hold his position and starve to death. Nor would it have been necessary to tie down a large Targaryen pinning force to maintain the siege, as there is no indication that Stannis used sallies to reconnoiter or harass his besiegers.

    Dragonstone assault – There is no reason to believe that Stannis used any sort of combined arms approach here. The forces guarding this fortress are described as “remnants” and can be presumed to have had a fairly low morale. Against such forces such as these, the standard Stannis tactic of a full on frontal assault would have a good chance of carrying the day, but would have been unnecessary as well, as the island was cut off from reinforcements and supplies and could have just as easily been taken a year or two later with much greater ease. Perhaps even terms of surrender could have been negotiated (and subsequently reneged on if preferable).

    Ironborn naval campaign – Here Stannis does show some excellent qualities for an admiral – his dogged pursuit, a desire to close with the enemy and a ruthless determination to pin and finish them. But again, we encounter the same inclination of Stannis to turn every battle into a full on frontal assault.The very same operational strategy as Stannis employed was used by the Persians against the Greeks at Salamis in 480 BC, and with far less advantageous results, which leads me to believe that this victory was due more to the quality of the king’s marines than in the leader of the expedition. It does imply that Stannis might be better qualified as an admiral than as a field commander, a conclusion that his brother Robert apparently came to independently.

    It certainly did not take a military genius to note that a substantive naval victory would have to precede any land operations against the Iron Isles.

    Campaign against Renly – Here I do not think there is much as all worthy of note. Stannis starts with a “siege” of Storm’s End reminiscent of a Monty Python sketch. He then allows himself to be pinned by his brother’s numerically superior force. It was a very lucky thing that his concubine turned out to be an exceptionally talented magician and assassin, doing away with his brother and with the commander of a troublesome garrison in the nick of time, but it was extremely foolhardy to pin the survival of his entire field army on such a slender and untested scheme.

    About the best one can say here is that Stannis managed to hold himself from making a suicidal frontal assault on Storm’s End with a numerically inferior force.

    King’s Landing assault – Here the traits that made Stannis such a good admiral prove to be his undoing as a field commander. First of all, he chooses a strategic goal that is of dubious value even if all goes according to plan. He has a numerically inferior force, while the location of the Lannister’s main army is unknown. There is no indication that Stannis does anything but the most cursory reconnaissance of the region. He has the support of the Baratheon nobles after the untimely death of his brother, but does little to consolidate his forces or to assemble fresh troops. Instead he sends everything he has from land and sea in preparation for another of his full on frontal assaults. There is no indication that he maintained any sort of reserve whatsoever. Instead of setting up camp south of the city and taking stock of the situation, he squandered his short supply of ground forces on a virtually impregnable fortress, and with predictable results, for even with a successful assault his forces would have been too wrecked to do much else that either withstand a siege or sail away.

    Could Stannis draw new troops from the population in King’s Landing, presuming he took the capitol by storm? If this were possible, why didn’t Tyrion use those exact same men in the defense of the city? Why not instead leave a blocking force to besiege the starving garrison at King’s Landing, take the remainder of his men and range far and wide over the surrounding region, collecting reinforcements and supplies from the unguarded countryside? Why not seek out the very real Tyrell and/or Lannister field armies, which were far more of a threat, and perhaps defeat them in detail before they managed to unite? At the very least this would have allowed him the mobility to escape if his enemies proved to be too substantial. This seems far more strategically sensible than a hasty and needless assault against an entrenched foe.

    As for how Stannis squandered his overwhelming naval advantage, once again in a frontal assault, this simply was inexcusable, especially for someone with his presumed experience at sea.

    Battle at the Wall – Here Stannis is involved in a tactical operation with some cleverness and depth (the attack as described is more like a double envelopment). However I do not think you can fairly attribute the planning to Stannis. This sounds more like a plan that the rangers concocted, with Stannis being recognized as an effectively blunt instrument – a good hammer to the hard anvil of the Night’s Watch. At the command of heavy horse cavalry against poorly disciplined light infantry, Stannis can do as many frontal assaults and charges as he likes with relative impunity. I would give the accolades in a tactical sense to whoever put Stannis in this position.

    Strategically? Again this is a blunder. Why is it so necessary to destroy the Wildling force or to shatter it so close to the Wall? Why not try to recruit the Wildlings to the Baratheon cause or, failing that, simply let them pass further south into Lannister controlled lands, and let his enemies expend treasure and men dealing with this new headache?

    Deepwood Motte – Here we have a strong and heavy force under Stannis allied to an irregular force indigenous to the region dealing with an Ironborn raiding party. Asha’s pirate shore party does not even attempt to make a stand. The Mountain Clans pursue and do most of the work on their own. Since the Ironborn are more of a threat to the Lannisters than to Stannis, I’m not sure how simply chasing them off rather than destroying them serves any positive strategic purpose. As a means of gaining the support of the northern nobles for Stannis, simply forcing the pirates to flee seems preferable – but of course letting them go for strategic considerations is entirely outside of both his strategic insight and his character. A deep thinker Stannis is not.

    And of course, let us not discuss in detail why Stannis should have so much trouble with the local conditions, considering that the majority of his standing force at this point is native to this cold weather region (!)

    ” … he is neither a strategist, nor is he schooled in the operational art, nor is he a tactician, nor is he a general, nor is he a soldier. Other than that he’s a great military man – I want you to know that.”

    -General Norman Schwarzkopf

    Stannis as described does not impress me as a very good military commander. At best he should be in command of a heavy cavalry force that is part of a larger army, where his inclinations for reckless and foolhardy behavior can be checked by a more capable and sober military thinker. Certainly neither his courage nor his determination can be called into question, but he does seem to be a bit too thick for any deep independent insights or planning.

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  9. Not just the battle of Blackwater bay, GRR Martin is very much influenced by the Umayyad Dynasty, The ones who laid siege to Constantinople twice. Valyrian steel is inspired from “Damascus Steel”, down to the minute details. Damascus steel forging art is now lost, ever since the destruction of House Umayyad, but old swords made of Damascus Steel can steel be seen which fit the description of Valyrian steel. House of Umayyad Emperors was completely wiped out after Imperial defeat in Battle of Zab River (Which is pretty similar to Battle of Trident river). Last Emperor fell in the fighting like Rhaegar Targaryen did. Story of Daenerys Targaryen is inspired from story of Last Umayyad prince Abd Al-Rahman “The Falcon”, who escaped with his brother. He spent years of his early youth hiding and running from Usurper’s assassins. In the end he revived his House’s rule in Spain. “To go east[Damascus] he had to go west[Spain]“. Though he could not go back.

  10. Anamay Shetty

    I think the most impressive part about Stannis’ achievements is that Stannis is surprisingly young.
    The TV show does a rather poor job at showing this, mainly by casting Dillane as Stannis, and contrasting him with the much younger Renly, so it was a surprise when I discovered his age in the books.
    The WOIAF puts his birth-year at 265AC, which puts him at 17 years old at the Siege of Storm’s End, 18 at the assault on Dragonstone and 24 at Greyjoy’s Rebellion.
    Now when you consider the feats he did (holding a castle for a year against the Reach, organising an amphibious attack on a Targarean outpost etc.) it moves his achievements from impressive to jaw dropping.
    (I personally find it an amusing image to see Stannis receiving an amphibious assault operation as an 18th birthday present!)

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