Factboard: Lessons in War under Siege

A special forces soldier returns fire, as he and civilians come under fire from Serbian snipers in downtown Sarajevo April 6, 1992. Under general Milosevic's command snipers fire against civilians, spreading terror as they queued for bread, or walking with children. (Mike Persson/AFP/Getty Images)

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We've been talking today about the tragedy of Homs, Syria and its unbearable siege. City sieges are typically long, miserable and often catastrophic for besieged and besieger alike.

And they're as common as city walls and angry armies. In our imaginations, siege as a tactic recalls Roman or Medieval warfare.

But modern sieges are typically more deadly just because modern cities are so much larger and modern siege weaponry so much more powerful.

Still, those who watched the Ottomans gather around Constantinople 600 years ago had much in common with those who watched the Nazis arrive at Stalingrad's gates: Civilians were about to learn terrible lessons in war... useless lessons that continue to be taught in our own lifetime.


Here is a look back at war under siege: * Text below or listen to audio


In the spring of 2011 rebel forces took control of Misrata, Libya. They spent much of April and May under attack from the pro-Gadhafi forces surrounding them on all sides. At times, the city was cut off from its port, leaving no means of escape. The battle is sometimes referred to now as "Libya's Stalingrad."


In the summer of 2004, an Iraqi militia called The Mahdi Army laid siege to British positions in the town of Al Amarah, Iraq. For most of the month of August, British forces were cut off from their supply chain while The Mahdi Army launched 86 individual assaults on their position. In the end, only one British soldier was killed and the Mahdi Army never got closer than 30 metres. But the Siege of CIMIC House is now the British military's longest defensive stand since World War Two.


The most famous -- and by far the deadliest -- siege since World War Two was the Siege of Sarajevo. During the Bosnian War, the Serb Army surrounded the city from April 5th, 1992 to February 29th, 1996. It was the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare ... a year longer than the Siege of Leningrad. Between 9,500 and 14,000 people were killed ... nearly half of them civilians. Even today, there are about 100,000 fewer people living in Sarajevo than before the siege.


In June of 1982, Israeli forces invaded Lebanon, concerned with the increasing power of Syrian forces there as well as the presence of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Israel laid siege to Beirut for seven weeks, cutting off food, water and electricity and attacking the city by sea, air and land.


In 1954, Vietnamese Forces laid siege to Dien Bien Phu, the last French colonial position in the country. After a two-month siege, France agreed to withdraw its forces from all of French Indochina.


Between June, 1948 and May, 1949, allied forces from the United States, Britain and Canada flew 200,000 flights into West Berlin after the Soviet Union cut off rail, road and canal access to the part of the city under Allied control. After nearly a year, the Soviets gave up the blockade and Berlin was formally divided.


By far the most brutal siege in modern history happened during World War Two when Nazi forces laid siege to Leningrad for 872 days. While not the longest, it was the deadliest. More than a million civilians died during the siege or while fleeing the city. Some historians choose to describe it as a genocide, arguing it was the result of a policy of racially motivated starvation.



This segment was produced by The Current's Gord Westmacott.

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