|Battle of the Pelennor Fields|
Gandalf watching the army of Mordor in front of the city.
|Conflict: War of the Ring; Sauron's final stroke on Gondor|
|Date: March 14 - 15, 3019|
|Place: The Pelennor Fields (initially Minas Tirith)|
|Outcome: Victory for the Men of the West|
|Gandalf||Witch-king of Angmar†|
| Book: Around 2300 Gondorian soldiers+1000 survivors from Osgiliath defend Minas Tirith. Nearly 2800 troops and non-combatants altogether from Gondor's provinces. At dawn, 6000 Rohirrim soldiers came, and later supported by the Southern Gondorian Army (possibly around 2000-4000 soldiers)
Film: About 2300 Gondorian soldiers at Minas Tirith. At dawn, 6,000 Rohirrim came, later supported by the Army of the Dead.
| Book: About 100,000 Orcs, 30,000 Easterlings, 18,000 Haradrim, and all Nine Nazgûl, Trolls and Great beasts. Later reinforced by around 80,000 Variags of Khand, Southrons in scarlet, and men of Hildorien. Unknown number of Wargs, and Mûmakil.
Film: 200,000 orcs. All nine Nazgul. Numerous Trolls and Wargs and 4 great beasts. Around 20,000 Easterlings and 2000 Variags from Khand, reinforced by 20 Mûmakil+1000 Haradrim soldiers.
Book: Heavy: Thousands of Gondorian and Rohirrim soldiers, as well as many civilians potentially injured
Film: Heavy: Numerous Gondorians, and the majority of the Rohirrim cavalry
|Very Heavy: Destruction of besieging force, survivors scattered or surrendered|
The Battle of the Pelennor Fields was a battle for the city of Minas Tirith, and ultimately Gondor, during the War of the Ring. It was the greatest battle of the War of the Ring, and indeed the largest of the entire Third Age. Major casualties resulted from this battle - including the deaths of King Théoden and the Witch-king of Angmar.
On the morning of March 10, 3019, the "Dawnless Day" began. Sauron sent forth a large mass of dark and foul clouds to cover the lands of Gondor (Possibly Rohan as well, though it is never indicated in the book or the movie). Sauron's purpose was to spread fear and uncertainty among his enemies, as well as to aid his servants; it was said that dread was one of his greatest weapons. The forces of Mordor arrived on two fronts: the army of the Lord of the Nazgûl came forth from Minas Morgul (through the Morgul Vale), and the other up the river Anduin from Umbar; mainly the ships of the Corsairs with Haradrim and Easterlings. On March 13, 3019, the Siege of Gondor began, and on the morning of March 15, the Army of Rohan arrived with 6000 riders. While this was not enough for a decisive turn of the battle, it held the enemy off until the Umbar ships arrived, carrying, instead of corsairs: Aragorn and Halbarad, Gimli and Legolas, the Sons of Elrond, and the rest of the Grey Company. (In the third movie, however, that is changed to the Army of the Dead coming all the way to the Harlond south of the City, on the Corsairs' ships.)
The War of the Ring was declared on June 20, 3018 when the forces of Mordor attacked the city of Osgiliath; however, the sons of steward Denethor II drove the enemy to the east bank of the river and destroyed the great bridge of the city. Nine months passed after the skirmish in Osgiliath when Sauron's ally, Saruman of Many Colours, sent forth a large army to destroy the people of Rohan. They were, however, defeated by the forces of the Rohirrim in the Battle of the Hornburg. After this decisive victory, Sauron knew his strike must come swiftly and potently. Aragorn revealed himself to Sauron through the Palantír of Orthanc, which spurred the Dark Lord into action, making him send his armies before the full force was prepared. He decided to release his long-prepared army in hopes of annihilating his greatest enemy, Gondor. Due to the threat of a huge fleet of Corsair warships gathering in Umbar, the allied forces of Gondor sent far fewer people to aid them than expected in preparation of invasion from the sea.
The Dawnless Day
|“||Nay, this is no weather of the world. This is some device of his malice, some broil of fume from the Mountain of Fire that he sends to darken hearts and council.||”|
–Beregond, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
There was no dawn between March 9 and 10. This is the day which is called the "Dawnless Day". A large cloud from Mordor silently crept over the lands of Rohan and Gondor, covering the sunlight and preventing it from penetrating the clouds. Sauron's purpose was to instill fear amongst the Army of the West, and also to ease the passing of his minions. On that same day, an army from the Black Gate emerged and captured the island of Cair Andros. The purpose was two-fold: to prevent the Rohirrim from entering Anorien, and at the same time to guard the northern regions of Gondor. The Muster of Rohan, led by King Theoden, left the camp of Dunharrow, the beacons of Gondor being lit one day prior. During the Dawnless Day, the ring-bearer Frodo Baggins, his servant Samwise, and their guide, Gollum, approached Minas Morgul. When they arrived, they saw a red flash emanating from beyond the eastern mountains- probably from Orodruin-, which was answered by lightning and blue flame issuing from Minas Morgul and the surrounding hills. The Witch-king of Angmar emerged from the city on a black horse, accompanied by an army stated to be larger than any that departed from the vale since the time of Isildur. This was the smaller of Sauron the Great's forces; the larger host issuing forth from the Black Gate.
Fall of Osgiliath
|“||They have paid dear for the crossing, but less dearly than we hoped.||”|
–Faramir's messenger, The Return of the King
On March 9, Faramir sent his forces to reinforce the garrison at Osgiliath, expecting a large blow from the enemy. After giving a report to Denethor, he left on March 11 to command the garrison. That night, they were attacked. On March 12, Faramir retreated to the Causeway Forts. Once there, he did his best to hold the rearguard, lest the retreat turn into a rout. However, he was wounded on the approach back to Minas Tirith by a foul dart of the enemy.
Siege of Minas Tirith and the Fall of Rammas Echor
Upon arriving at the city, the enemy sprawled before the greatest of all walls. They quickly put up siege equipment and dug trenches. Wasting almost no time, the siege began, eventually breaching the wall of the city- the Rammas Echor. The wall, built in the days of the splendor of the men of the west, was thought to be impregnable. The siege engines of the enemy, while not penetrating it, were able to launch incendiary missiles into the lower city, setting it ablaze. The great gates of Minas Tirith were not to be underestimated, and after prolonged failure, the enemy brought out a massive battering ram, called Grond in homage to the Hammer of the Underworld, the weapon of Sauron's master, Morgoth.
A large force was sent to guard the northern roads against possible reinforcements from Rohan. It put trenches and stakes on the road, enough to halt any charge. Denethor was distraught, and refused to lead the people, as he thought the entire city was to be destroyed, and Faramir was doomed to die. He apathetically refused to give any command, saying it was pointless to even try. This resulted in Gandalf commanding the defenders. Thousands of orcs and hundreds of soldiers of Gondor were killed during a prolonged shoot out. Mighty siege towers rolled onwards to the walls, but those were mainly a distraction and a test of Gondor's strength. The main assault was launched against the Gate - the only vulnerable point in the wall. Thus, the Enemy began using Grond. It was a hundred feet in length, drawn by great beasts and wielded by hordes of Mountain-trolls . The might of the great weapon was truly shown, as it only took three strikes to obliterate the gate. The Nazgûl leader entered the city, with all fleeing before him, save Gandalf upon Shadowfax. At this exact moment, the horns of the Rohirrim sounded, forcing the Witch-king to leave to confront this new foe.
Arrival of Rohan
|“||Arise, arise, Riders of Theoden! Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter! spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered, a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises! Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!||”|
–Theoden giving his speech before the battle
Unknown to both Gondor and Mordor, the Drúedain showed the army of the Mark an old, hidden road built by the Dunedain long ago, and forgotten by all save the Wild Men. This allowed the Rohirrim to circumvent the defenses of the enemy on the northern road, and attack the forces of Mordor from the rear. Due to the dismantling of the walls of Minas Tirith, they could not mount a strong defense quickly, and Theoden's forces quickly overran the northern half of Pelennor. However, after forcing the retreat of the Haradrim cavalry, they were halted by the appearance of the Witch King. He mortally wounded Theoden, who was crushed by his own horse.
At that moment, Éowyn and Merry Brandybuck rode up to face him. Éowyn smote the Fell Beast upon which he rode by slicing its head off with two chops, and the Witch-King fell to the ground. He was unharmed by this, however, and he stood up menacingly, readying his mace. He swung at Éowyn, who managed to block the attack with her shield, which shattered under the great mace's force. Éowyn's arm was also shattered upon impact. She fell to the ground, and the Witch-King lifted his mace for a final blow. As he did so, Merry, who was behind him, stabbed him in the back of the leg with his Barrow-Blade. The Witch-King roared in pain, and Éowyn used this momentary distraction to drive her sword into his face, killing him. After that, the Rohirrim, under the command of Éomer, continued their assault, while the Footmen of Gondor launched their own counterattack. Even so, they were outmatched by the Mûmakil, Haradrim, and Southrons, as the enemy recovered surprisingly quickly from the loss of their commander. As the tide of battle turned against Gondor, the Men of the West saw something even more terrifying- one which made them lose all hope. The ships of Umbar had arrived.
The Final Stage
Neither side knew that Aragorn and the Grey Company, with the help of the Army of the Dead, had vanquished the fleet of the Corsairs. The Army of the Dead repaid their debt to the King by driving the Men of Umbar upon the ships mad, causing them to jump off of their ships and drown. After loading the ships with as many allies of Minas Tirith as possible, they sailed north to the battle. Upon arriving, the enemy found itself in a very disadvantageous position, with their enemies where (and when) they least expected. The extra reinforcements brought by Aragorn punched a wide salient within the most vulnerable area of the Mordor-host, severing the forces nearer to Minas Tirith and the ones close to the River Anduin. The Men of Gondor and the Rohirrim exploited this tactical advantage to the fullest, utterly routing the enemy with prolonged infantry charges and cavalry pursuit. The tactical and moral advantage granted by that was effective in turning the battle into a rout of the Mordor host. Most of the Mordor-host was slain and the rest fled back toward the Land of Shadow. Corpses of both Orcs and Men lay in colossal carrion piles while the few stragglers crossed the Anduin through Osgiliath or on barges. However, one crucial delaying action was critical to the survival of the Enemy and thus prolonged the War of the Ring. A 1000-strong force of Easterlings, with their backs to the River Anduin, fought to the last man, and Khamûl and Gothmog rallied many evil servants across the Pelennor to fight while their other Orc companions-at-arms retreated like sheep pursued by wolves. While they were utterly wiped out by the now numerically superior Armies of the West, they inflicted considerable casualties among their foes and bought critically important time for their comrades. The battle was over by sunset, with most enemies dead and a meager few fleeing.
The Dark Host was lost all but completely. Few ever made it to Mordor, and fewer still survived of the Haradrim forces. However, they only represented a fraction of the forces of Sauron, although probably a significant portion of those who were armed and war-ready. Most important to Sauron was the loss of his mightiest servant, the Witch King. Although the numbers lost were not incredibly significant to Sauron, as he could afford to lose many times that of his enemies, the loss of his chief servant was a devastating blow. The losses of the West were significant as well. In addition to the lost commanders, it was said by Éomer later that not 4000 Riders were combat worthy, and the losses in other forces were probably considerable as well. However, despite that, with the newcomers from Southern Gondor and more arriving by previous orders of Aragorn, even with all the losses of the battle and the 7000 heading for Morannon, the city was estimated to be better defended than before the battle, discounting the loss of the Gate.
Portrayal in Adaptations
Rankin and Bass
In the 1980 animated Return of the King film, the battle is only seen partway through. The men amongst Sauron's forces are never clearly seen, only the Trolls, Orcs, and integrated Uruk-hai. Exchanges of arrows between the two sides are seen, as well as melee battles. Some of the Mordor forces ride the towers lashed to the backs of the Oliphaunts. As the battle rages on, Pippin alerts Gandalf to the Denethor's despair. Denethor insists that the West has failed, and he wishes his end to be on his terms and not Sauron's. Gandalf protests, reminding him that Theoden's forces from Rohan are en route. But Denethor reveals his Palantír, and informs Gandalf that even that will be only a brief reprieve because the black fleet from Umbar is sailing upriver towards them. He then orders his servants in, to burn him.
(Note: Due to the censorship laws of the time the special had to dance around the fact that Denethor committed suicide, but Gandalf's "So passes Denethor, son of Ecthelion" line confirms his death all the same). Eventually, the forces of Mordor bring out Grond, towed into position by a team of Oliphaunts and operated by trolls. The Witch-King of Angmar arrives to direct the ram, borne to the fight on his Fell Beast. Gandalf and Pippin ride down to the gate to confront him. As Gandalf and the Witch-King duel with words, they are interrupted by a the crowing of a rooster, announcing the new dawn. The Horn of Rohan sounds in answer, announcing the arrival of the Rohirrim. They charge into the fray, cutting through Sauron's troops. The Witch-King retreats for the time being. Merry and Pippin are reunited in the fracas. As the fight progresses for days, the Dawnless Day arrives, overshadowing the field. During this the Witch-King returns filled with extra power, which spooks Snowmane and causes him to throw Theoden off to his death. Merry swears revenge. Éowyn challenges the Witch-King, slaying his mount and then dueling him. Merry distracts him with a well-timed stab to the buttocks, allowing Éowyn to slice off his invisible head.
Due to the film not having time for the healing-house scenes they are not rendered ill. The Mordor troops panic and start scattering, some throwing themselves into the river. Then the black fleet arrives, giving them fresh hope, only to dash it when the flagship raises not the standard of Mordor but the standard of the King of Gondor. They are thrown into complete disarray at this point and mopped up by the joint Rohan and Gondor forces. Aragorn and Gandalf then prepare for the march on the Black Gate.
The Lord of the Rings film trilogy
There is no darkness to represent the Dawnless Day in the movie, and no one sees the sun until the Rohirrim arrive. In the film, the battle starts when the Orcs begin to launch the heads of their human prisoners towards the city to frighten and demoralize both citizens and soldiers alike. Denethor orders the army of Gondor to flee, but Gandalf knocks him unconscious, taking command of the fleeing soldiers saying, "Prepare for battle!". He then rides through the streets shouting, "Return to your posts!" The two armies exchange fire with catapults and trebuchets, and hundreds of orcs and dozens of Gondor soldiers are killed, as a few siege towers and trolls were felled as well.
The Nazgûl began to destroy the trebuchets of Minas Tirith, while more siege towers lumbered towards the walls. The siege towers did reach the walls, but the soldiers of Gondor were able to hold them off, while sustaining some losses as well. At the same time, the Orcs attempted to break the gate with a small wooden battering ram, but it had no effect.
Meanwhile, the Gondor archers mercilessly shot the orcs, and many fell. The orcs eventually brought out the ram of the underworld -- Grond, which by nightfall breaks the gate. About 100 soldiers of Gondor engage the trolls, Easterlings, and Orcs at the gate with Gandalf's aid. Despite fighting bravely, the soldiers of Gondor were overwhelmed, and were forced to retreat to the second level of the city. The Orcs then began to swarm through the broken gate torrentially. Despite dozens of archers firing at the orcs, the invading party heavily outnumbered them.
The next day at dawn the Orcs began to engage in melee combat with the soldiers of Gondor, who were then being slaughtered due to their exhaustion, earned by fighting non-stop through the night. The soldiers of Minas Tirith used the tactic "defend and retreat", which required the Men of Gondor to defend each level shortly, before retreating deeper into their burning citadel. Pippin alerts Gandalf of Denethor's madness and plans of suicide. Gandalf and Pippin rush to stop it, but are confronted by the Witch-King. Gandalf tries to confront the Lord of the Nazgûl, but is defeated when the Witch King breaks Gandalf's staff. Before the Witch-King can slay Gandalf, Rohan horns sound, the Witch King leaves to confront the new threat.
At the brink of defeat the Rohirrim, with 6000 fully armed horsemen, arrive and attack the orcs outside the walls of the city. The orcs open with three volleys into the Rohirrim, killing indiscriminately but failing to impact upon the Rohirrim's momentum. The Rohirrim smashed right through the orcs ranks, breaking the Orcs resolve and lifting the siege of the city. However, hope was lost at the arrival of the Mûmakil, who met the Rohirrim head on and inflicted heavy losses. However, the Haradrim suffer many losses due to the Rohirrim successfully bringing down several Mumakil.
The Witch-king also joined the battle with his Fell Beast, mortally wounding King Theoden. Éowyn, who rode secretly into the battlefield as Dernhelm, retaliated with two mighty slashes on the Fell Beast's neck, cloving the head asunder. Then the Witch-King and Éowyn engaged in a duel, with Éowyn evading two of his mace swings, and parrying one glancing blow. But she was struck when the head of the flail hit her shield directly, fracturing her arm and causing the shield to break into many pieces. Just as Éowyn faced imminent death by the Witch-King, Meriadoc stabbed the Witch-King in the leg, crippling him and giving Éowyn an opportunity to plunge her blade into the center of the Witch-king's shrouded face, killing him.
Back inside the walls of Minas Tirith, the forces of Gondor prepare for a last stand, while down on the Pelennor fields, the remaining orcs are at the brink of victory. When defeat seemed imminent, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli arrive on the ships of the Corsairs of Umbar and turn the tide of the battle with the aid of the Army of the Dead. These new reinforcements easily annihilated what remained of the besieging force of Orcs, Haradrim, and Mûmakil, with only a few escaping.
- ↑ The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, "Helm's Deep"
- ↑ The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, "The Voice of Saruman"
- ↑ The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, "Minas Tirith"
- ↑ The Lord of the Ring: The Return of the King, "The Muster of Rohan"
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 The Lord of the Ring: The Return of the Ring, "Siege of Gondor"
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 6.2 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields"
- ↑ The Lord of the Ring: The Return of the King, "The Last Debate"
- ↑ The Lord of the Ring: The Return of the King, "The Black Gate Opens"
- 1:Matthew Ward & Graham McNeill, The Battle of the Pelennor Fields, 2004, ISBN 1 84154 464 7, p 47 *The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King