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In my world, there exists giant eagles kind of similar to the ones in LOTR. These eagles are large enough to ride and are domesticated.

As a result, people have been using this giant eagles in warfare. First, they have been used as scouts. Later on they were used as transports. One day, somebody got the idea of dropping armored airborne knights from the eagles and having them decelerate with big silk parachutes.

These giant eagles can carry up to 500 kilograms of weight, can fly for up to 6 hours at a full load, are as durable as a warhorse, and are as rare as elephants. They are taking on human enemies in an early medieval Western European Castles. The castles have archers and trebuchets.

Would it be logistically possible for a nation with medieval-era technology to make parachutes for armored knights. If so, would it be practical in combat?

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    $\begingroup$ As with every other question of usefulness it depends on context. How many eagles? How many defenders? What's the layout of the castle? What are the tactical, operational and strategic goals of the besiegers and the defenders? How well equipped are both forces? Without that we're engaging in speculation, and providing subjective answers based on our interpretation of what the context is. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Aug 5 at 22:00
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    $\begingroup$ You are allowed to ask one and only one question. You're asking two (VTC:Needs More Focus) - and the second depends on the circumstances of your story (VTC:Too Story-Based). No practical answer can be given without (a) knowing exactly when in the medieval era we're talking about, (b) exactly how the paratroopers are equipped and (c) the specific circumstances of the drop (VTC:Needs Details). Also, this is a related question. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Aug 6 at 0:13
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    $\begingroup$ @Cadence It'd be like parking your car in a tight space while being under fire, it's not really ideal. Also those eagles are rare, so risking losing them could be quite expensibe, too ^^"... $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Aug 6 at 6:51
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    $\begingroup$ Certainly there are advantages and disadvantages to all forms of incursion, but siege warfare is a specific tactic that relies on logistics. You have to provide much more information to get a useful answer. Voting to close for now. Please provide some numbers and abilities, offensive and defensive weapons, etc. $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Aug 6 at 17:35
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    $\begingroup$ can the eagles not just land on the roof of the castle and let the knights off there? $\endgroup$
    – mgh42
    Aug 8 at 4:58

6 Answers 6

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I doubt it's a good tactic

Dropping knights will be quite surprising (and a bit funny, too ^^), but alas I doubt it's a very good idea in practice.

Number crushing

-We shall rain like angels of death! Oh, lord! Thy are so numerous!

An Eagle can carry 500 kg of weight, and let's say a plate-armored, paratrooper knight would weight at least 100 kg : assuming they weight naked 70 kg, add 20 kg for armor and a good 10 kg for a very efficient parachute. To keep things simple, we can say that the eagle can hold 4 paraknights for 100 kg each, and 100 kg is lost for the pilot and any harness, grip and eagle armor it should have.

You also told that eagles are as rare as elephants. I read here and there that there were 20 war elephants in some battles. Let's be very generous and take 50 of them. This means you have 4x50 = 200 droppable paraknights at once. While it's quite high, we have to remember it's a high-estimation, silk cost a lot in medieval times (making parachutes expensive), that 50 people are only there to drop knights (you lose 1/5 of your forces for your main-attack), and outside small skirmishes, battles tend to be bigger than the hundreds. All of this is worsened by...

Landing into troubles

-Stay in tight formation, my friends! Oh lord! I'm circled!

Airdrops are not very accurate and not all people will reach ground at the same time (because they jumped of or opened their parachutes at different times). Supposing they don't land outside the castle, formations cannot be set-up right after the drop : Paraknights will need time to regroup, if they can ever join their comrades. Being few is already precarious, but combining it with poor formation and preparation makes it a lot worse. Ah and yes, remember they land with the parachute?

-None shall stand before me! Oh lord! I can't see a thing!

They're likely to be blinded on landing as the parachute drops on them, I can already see knights trying desperately to remove the cloth while they're getting beaten up by the defenders ^^. It'll make landing and regrouping even harder than usual.

Narrowing the distance

-Hey there are paraknights coming.
-You know what time is it? Shooting practice!

The castle guards will have bows or crossbows. Thus, against any invader which aren't on the line of fire of friendlies will get shot. To simplify a lot1, any paraknight inside the castle isn't likely to be fired at (arrows can reach the other side of the walls, hitting other defenders), but any knight outside is sure to receive an arrow in the knee, if not the head. I know you want soldiers in the castle, not outside, but here's the problem : If there's a lot of wind, your knights will need to take some distance from the castle to land. Beyond the landing accuracy loss, this means they might be in shooting range before they get inside the castle, and risk getting killed before they even land.

Are there alternatives which still include some kind of airdrops?

I know it's not what exactly the epic siege you're hoping for, but here are a few alternatives I can think of which still includes dropping stuff on people :

  • Ranged weaponry : Arrows, rocks, etc. Since you can throw/drop them from the safety of your eagle, it could cause some damage. However, if eagles are well-known in your world, castle lords will build roofs for towers and remparts to protect against them, or use their own eagles for defense. This could complicate things quickly.
  • Some rancid cow corpses (and other animals) : It's a biological warfare which was sometimes used in medieval times. The advantage of eagles over traditional catapult illness throwing is that landing in the castle is (mostly) assured. And if you manage to aim the well (supposing it has no roof again), they're really going to need a good doctor.

Hopefully it could help devising new strategies for your siege :).


1 : There are also cases archers would be able to safely shoot towards the inside of the castle, like when there are roofs, or when there's no soldier on the other side. Having little to no soldier is possible if the other side is against a cliff, or with some coordination if the other side waits knights to land before going out and attack them.

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    $\begingroup$ About hitting the well with cow bombardment - quite cunning actually, also if a cow is dropped from high enough, the roof would get broken anyway. Finally a tandem drop could be made, a cow corpse with a stone attached by a chain, the corpse has more air resistance so will come down second, and the stone will penetrate roofs. $\endgroup$
    – Vesper
    Aug 6 at 6:20
  • $\begingroup$ A third alternative: psy-ops. Parachutes can be rigged to deploy automatically. Attach one to a single, perfectly healthy cow, air-drop it gently into the courtyard, and let the enemy try to figure out what exactly your strategy might be, that this act somehow furthers your plans. $\endgroup$
    – Ray
    Aug 7 at 15:02
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    $\begingroup$ A further problem is that paratrooper drops, even in training, practically always result in some casualties due to bad landings. A DZ in an open field isn't too bad, but tree-jumping (for example) was abandoned as a tactic due to injury rates. Trying to drop an armoured soldier into a castle (!) with a primitive, probably non-steerable parachute has a miniscule chance of any given soldier being functional on the ground. Most likely are injuries ranging from twisted ankles to broken necks, any of which makes the paratrooper worthless in medieval combat. $\endgroup$ Aug 8 at 2:20
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Paratroopers are not front-line soldiers

Your specifications make it sound like an attacking force can field a handful of these paratroopers, not dozens or hundreds, and this means that your generals shouldn't be thinking about dropping a large fighting force into a fortified enemy position.

Instead, the plan should be to insert saboteurs by stealth, which probably means you'll insert maybe two or three individuals into a fort, and not during the heat of battle. Their objectives will be things like lowering the drawbridge (or preventing it from being raised), unlocking gates, poisoning supplies, spoiling munitions, and interfering with enemy command-and-control (very possibly by last-minute assassination).

Fortified targets will begin to take precautions against this kind of thing once it has been used successfully, and that will make it increasingly difficult. That doesn't mean folks will stop doing it, or even succeeding, but both attack and defense will become increasingly sophisticated over time. That probably means these people will not be knights wearing armor: they will be thieves and con-men and silver-tongued toughs who can blend in for a short time, execute some very dirty and violent deeds, and then fend for themselves until their allies overrun the position or they can slip away and return to HQ.

The Eaglemen will all have sweet hats and mustaches. In the movie, all their character names will have nicknames in quotes, like:

    Kevin Costner   Robin "Killhound" Hood
   Kevin McDonald   Rodrigo "El Cid" Díaz De Vivar
      Kevin James   Godfrey "Sub-Zero" of Bouillon
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    $\begingroup$ The ideal costume to drop in with is probably a matte black body-suit, with a plain matte black parachute, at night. Then stab one enemy guard each to steal their outfit. Actually, on second thoughts, maybe they should drop in wearing a suit and tie. $\endgroup$
    – kaya3
    Aug 6 at 12:15
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    $\begingroup$ Upvote for need for nicknames in quotes, Tom "Silver tongued tough". So easy to forget if you don't happen to be named Kevin. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Aug 6 at 14:03
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You don't understand what paratroopers actually do

Modern Paratroopers rely on being somewhere, where the enemy does not expect any enemies (besides maybe a partisan or two), which is feasible to do with warfare on a country-scale. They are being dropped somewhere, where they can - very locally - gain tactical superiority despite their weak equipment (paratrooped equipment will pretty much always be inferior to that available to conventionally deployed troops, just like your knights DEFINITELY not having full armor). They do this to accomplish some specific goal (eg sabotage and retreat or hold out until the regular forces arrive at a bridgehead).

However, castles are small. Really small (when compared to countries, even the largest ones are tiny). When everyone is on high alert during a siege, there won't be a hidden spot for them to land and regroup securely (especially with basic, non-steerable parachutes). Because they usually do NOT drop directly into action. Paratroopers drop, gather their gear together, rescue mates stuck in trees, regroup and THEN march to their actual objective. It takes time from hitting the ground to being an effective fighting force. Even in an absolute pinch you need a minute or two for any individual to be ready, time that you do not have when your drop area has a guard within 20 second running distance everywhere.

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Not armored knights.

These knights will necessarily be badly outnumbered if they descend into a castle. Even if you send a bunch, they will come down slowly with their huge obvious parachutes and persons on the ground will have plenty of time to get ready. They will wheel cages under the falling knights then allow the knights to fall in. Then they will make the knights dance for their entertainment!

It is not like you will be catching the people on the ground by surprise. They are freaking already under siege! They know you are going to try stuff and they will be watching. They know the knights are going to come down in their city and they control the city.

Paratroopers ideally come down behind enemy lines. For a besieged city "behind enemy lines" is outside the city and you already have a bunch of people out there.

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  • $\begingroup$ "Huge obvious parachutes" might be harder to spot at night. $\endgroup$
    – kaya3
    Aug 6 at 12:03
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    $\begingroup$ @kaya3 it's also harder to properly pilot an eagle at night, more so as eagles rely on updrafts which are not there during the night. And should you drop a knight at a castle, he won't see where he would land, and he would be likely to break his bones at landing. $\endgroup$
    – Vesper
    Aug 6 at 12:13
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    $\begingroup$ @Vesper I'm assuming the castle itself is lit up at night, so the guards on night duty can see what they're doing. If we're suspending our disbelief about eagles carrying 500kg of passenger load, then we can probably also suspend our disbelief about whether they are able to fly at night. $\endgroup$
    – kaya3
    Aug 6 at 12:20
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    $\begingroup$ @kaya3: Probably not. Prior to gas lighting, it was prohibitively expensive to maintain lights that were not in use. Even the night guards probably wouldn't have torches. Castle walls were plastered and whitewashed, so you could walk across the battlements in low light. $\endgroup$ Aug 6 at 21:20
  • $\begingroup$ There need not be lights everywhere, but in the midst of a pitch black night, whatever lights there are would probably be visible from the air unless the castle is operating a blackout policy to stymie attacks from the air at night. And it seems reasonable that they would only know to adopt such a policy if such attacks were successful at some point. $\endgroup$
    – kaya3
    Aug 6 at 21:25
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No, Because the Enemy Gets a Say

Aside from all the other good answers, when worldbuilding you need to always ask how the enemy or system would respond to your proposed change.

Ask yourself what you would do if you had a castle and there were eagles around dropping paratroopers. How would you defend your castle? One answer might be to stretch cables or ropes across the castle opening so that anyone trying to parachute in gets tangled in them. Another might be to drag out large sheets of spikes on the ground to impale incoming soldiers.

Also, if you had ground attack eagles, would paratroopers be the smartest thing to drop from them? I would think that 500 kg of burning pitch or oil dropped on a Castle would be far more effective. If the Eagles don't like fire, send a bunch of them over to pour oil all over everything, then start firing flaming arrows into the compound.

But more fundamentally, in a world with air bombardment and one side having total air superiority, castles would be almost useless, or would be designed very differently. So either they train their own defensive eagles to protect their assets and you wind up with eagle battles in the sky, or they learn to fight and defend in a way that takes eagles into account. Caves and tunnels would be more defensible than a castle with an open roof, for example.

Whenever technology improves one side's ability to fight, it will change the the tactics of the enemy.

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Partly

A parachute can be controlled by pulling some ropes that link the paratrooper to the dome, thus a selective drop is possible. For example, dropping on a trebuchet in order to destroy it and prevent damage to besieging troops. But it will be plain more effective to bomb that trebuchet with stones, especially should the eagle have a kind of bombing gear controlled by the rider.

Another possible option is to drop a few attackers over the gates in order to open them for outside troops to breach the perimeter. While the gates are held, the walls won't provide enough protection to the defenders, and the roof of a gatehouse is not a good protection from airborne assault, as whoever drops from above could as well drop some stones to create a hole in the roof big enough to pass through.

However, as others have said already, knights in flight are very vulnerable to shooting from below, even if a crossbow bolt won't reach the eagles, so it's possible that the strike force will suffer enough losses to fail their task.

As a threat

In order to protect a besieged castle, the defenders will have to account for such paradrops, or else a quick drop on the gates could allow the attackers to overcome the local guards and breach the perimeter, thus the defenders will be at a constant stress, lowering their morale over time. If the eagles will also be used as siege weapons (hey you, CATCH!), the castle could suffer enough damage for them to plain abandon it and leave by secret passages. This is the very reason of why artillery effectively disabled old medieval castles as protective centres, and fortification had to evolve into building walls and bunkers for artillery defense. Here with those eagles you have a poorman's artillery with quite a decent precision, effectively obsoleting some of the fortification tricks before the need of them would arise.

Finally, about prachutes. One can make a parachute out of sail-worthy fab4ic, and sails were already in place and in at least some abundance to divert some production to making parachutes. Yet, even with parachutes ready as an idea, making a proper parachute and test it for warfare use would take a while, in the meantime other ideas could shadow paradrops as a use for eagles.

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