Home > Information Security, Information Survivability > On Castles: Moats, Machicolations, Burning Oil and Berms Vs. The Trebuchet (or DMZ’s teh Sux0r!)

On Castles: Moats, Machicolations, Burning Oil and Berms Vs. The Trebuchet (or DMZ’s teh Sux0r!)

TrebuchetCheck out the comments in the last post regarding my review of the recently released film titled "Me and My DMZ – ‘Til Death Do Us Part"

Carrying forward the mental exercise of debating the application of the classical DMZ deployment and it’s traceable heritage to the concentric levels of defense-in-depth from ye olde "castle/moat" security analogy, I’d like to admit into evidence one interesting example of disruptive technology that changed the course of medieval castle siege warfare, battlefield mechanics and history forever: the Trebuchet.

The folks that advocated concentric circles of architectural defense-in-depth as their strategy would love to tell you about the Trebuchet and its impact.  The problem is, they’re all dead.  Yet I digress.

The Trebuchet represented a quantum leap in the application of battlefield weaponry and strategy that all but ended the utility of defense-in-depth for castle dwellers.  Trebuchets were amazingly powerful weapons and could launch projectiles up to several hundred pounds with a range of up to about 300 yards!

The Trebuchet allowed for the application of technology that put the advantages of time, superior firepower and targeted precision squarely in the hands of the attacker and left the victim to simply wait until the end came. 

To review the basics, a castle is a defensive structure built around a keep or center
structure.  The castle is a fortress, a base from which to mount a
defense against a siege or center of operations from which to conduct
an attack.  The goal of these defenses is to repel, delay, deny, disrupt, and incapacitate the enemy. However, the castle on its own will not provide
a defense against a determined siege force.

One interesting point is that the assumption holds true that all the insiders are "friendlies…"

Here we have an illustration of a well-fortified castle with the Keep in the center surrounded by multiple cascading levels of defense spiraling outward.  Presumably as an attacker breached one defensive boundary, they would encounter yet another with the added annoyance of defensive/offensive tactics such as archers, spiked pits, burning oil, etc.

Breaching one of these things took a long time, cost a lot of lives and meant a significant investment in time, materials, and effort.  Imagine what is was like for the defenders!

Enter the Trebuchet.  You wheel one of these bad boys within effective strike range, but out of range of the castle defender’s archers, and launched hurling masses of projectiles toward and over walls, obliterating them and most anything nearby.  You have a BBQ while a rotated crew of bombardiers merrily flung hunks of pain toward the hapless and helpless defenders.  They can either stay and die or run out the gate and die.

This goes on and on.  Stuff inside starts to burn.  Walls crumble.  People start to starve.  The attackers then start flinging over dead corpses — animals, humans, whatever.  Days and perhaps weeks pass.  Disease sets in.  The bombardment continues until there are no defenses left, most of the defenders have either died or plan to and the enemy marches in and dispatches the rest.

What’s the defense against a Trebuchet?  You mean besides rebuilding your castle in the middle of a lake out of range making it exceedingly difficult to live as an inhabitant?  Not a lot.  In short, artillery meant the end of the castle as a defensive measure.  It simply stopped working.

Let’s be intellectually honest here within the context of this argument.  We’re facing our own version of the Trebuchet with the tactics, motivation, skill, tools and directed force of how attackers engage us today.  Most modern day castle technology apologists are content to simply sit in their keeps, playing Parcheesi and extolling the virtues of their fortifications, while the determined leviathan force smashes down the surrounding substructure.

There came a point in the illustration above wherein the art of warfare and the technology involved completely changed the playing field.  We’ve reached that point now in information warfare, yet people still want to build castles.

What I think people really want to say privately in their stoic defense of the DMZ and defense-in-depth is that they can’t think of anything else that’s better at the moment and they’re simply trying to wait out the bombardment.  Too bad the attackers aren’t governed by such motivating encouragement.

Look, I’m not trying to be abrasively critical of what people have done — I’ve done it, too.  I’m also not suggesting that we immediately forklift what’s in place now; that’s not feasible or practical.  However, I am being critical of people who continue to hang onto and defend outmoded concepts and suggest it’s an acceptable idea to fight a conventional war against a force using guerilla tactics and superior tools with nothing but time and resources on their hands.

There has to be a better way than just waiting to die.

If you don’t think differently about how you’re going to focus your efforts and with what, here’s what you have to look forward to:



  1. rybolov
    October 17th, 2007 at 07:59 | #1

    Hi Hoff
    The defense to a Trebuchet is a spoiling attack or similar maneuver warfare–a partial raid to destroy their equipment before it has time to destroy you. Hence the remark by Rommel about Patton (both offensive powerhouses, the quote is from the movie "Patton") that "I will attack and annihilate him…! …before he does the same to me."
    However, you are correct in that if you continue to play by the old rules, the guys who made the new rules will eat your lunch when it's all over but the crying. See, the new rules were made primarily to create loopholes in the old rules and to exploit vulnerabilities in your system, whether the new rules are trebuchets, maneuver warfare, pikes, machineguns, submarines, tanks, airplanes, nuclear weapons, or $foo.
    Oh, another good Patton quote: "Fixed fortifications are monuments to the stupidity of man. If anything made by God can be overcome, anything made by man can be overcome."
    IE, if you stay in your foxhole pretending that something bigger and badder won't be invented, it will become a shallow grave. Just some pleasant thoughts for this Wednesday morning. =)

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