Seiges where the defendants were vastly outnumbered but sucessful


Ad Honorem
Mar 2010
In most sieges the defenders are outnumbered, but in a testament to the strength of a medieval castle a handful of defenders could successfully resist a much larger army.

Some noteable cases are the siege of Corfe Castle in the English Civil War when Lady Mary Banks successfully defended her castle against 500-600 men with a force of only 5.

Any other examples of very small forces withstanding long sesiges whilst vastly outnumbered.


Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
I would've thought most sieges had defenders who were outnumbered.

In the Iberian theatre castles may typically be garrisoned by, say, 30-50 Templar knights (ref True History of the Templars) which, before cannons and with the opposition a fairly mobile force without any form of siege train was plenty - if it was on a decent hill with decent walls.

Castles in Spain pre-gunpowder often changed hands by treaty agreement, marriage or tricks/laxity on the part of the defenders.

The Kingdom of Granada was particularly well-provisioned with strong castles and it was only with the advent of heavy cannon that Ferdinand was able to embark on the war to finish it off. Even then it took 10 years.

2 quick examples of slack defence:

1) Zahara de la Sierra 1482 - the War of Granada started when some Granadino troops crept over the walls of the high Castle at night when everyone was asleep. Zahara had been strongly and ably defended by a noble of Sevilla, but he died in an earthquake and his son preferred drinking and gambling in Sevilla to paying attention to defence of his properties.
2) Fuengirola later in the same war. Named as it was a fuente - or source of water. In fact the only source of water for Granadino and allied ships to the west of Malaga. When some christian troops came along the gates were open and in they walked.
Feb 2016
Atlantic Ocean
The Largest Siege of them all, The Siege of Leningrad oralso known as the Leningrad Blockade

The Capture of the city was one of the three main objectives in Operation Barbarossa The strategy was motivated by Leningrad's political status as the former capital of Russia and the symbolic capital of the Russian Revolution, its military importance as a main base of the Soviet Baltic Fleet and its industrial strength, housing numerous arms factories.(1)

It has been reported that Adolf Hitler was so confident of capturing Leningrad that he had the invitations to the victory celebrations to be held in the city's Hotel Astoria already printed. (2)

it is clear that Hitler's intention was to utterly destroy the city and its population. According to a directive sent to Army Group North on 29 September, "After the defeat of Soviet Russia there can be no interest in the continued existence of this large urban center. [...] Following the city's encirclement, requests for surrender negotiations shall be denied, since the problem of relocating and feeding the population cannot and should not be solved by us. In this war for our very existence, we can have no interest in maintaining even a part of this very large urban population."(3)

Preparation for the siege

Army Group North under Feldmarschall Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb advanced to the city of Leningrad it's primary objective Von Leeb's plan called for capturing the city on the move, but due to Hitler's recall of 4th Panzer Group (persuaded by his Chief of General Staff, Franz Halder, to transfer this south to participate in Fedor von Bock's push for Moscow.

von Leeb had to lay the city under siege indefinitely after reaching the shores of Lake Ladoga, while trying to complete the encirclement and reaching the Finnish Army under Marshal Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim waiting at the Svir River, east of Leningrad.

Finnish forces were located to the north, while the Germans were located in the south. Both forces had the goal of encircling the city and maintaining the blockade keeping the city cut off from the rest of the nation.The Germans planned on lack of food being their chief weapon against the citizens; German scientists had calculated that the city would reach starvation after only a few weeks.(4)

On 27 June 1941, the Council of Deputies of the Leningrad administration organised "First response groups" of civilians. In the next days the entire civilian population of Leningrad was informed of the danger and over a million citizens were mobilised for the construction of fortifications. Several lines of defences were built along the perimeter of the city in order to repulse hostile forces approaching from north and south by means of civilian resistance.

The 4th Panzer Group from East Prussia took Pskov following a swift advance and managed to reach Novgorod by 16 August. The Soviet defenders fought to the death, despite the German discovery of the Soviet defence plans on an officer’s corpse. After the capture of Novgorod, General Hoepner’s 4th Panzer Group continued its progress towards Leningrad.

However, the 18th Army — despite some 350,000 men lagging behind — forced its way to Ostrov and Pskov after the Soviet troops of the Northwestern Front retreated towards Leningrad. On 10 July, both Ostrov and Pskov were captured and the 18th Army reached Narva and Kingisepp, from where advance toward Leningrad continued from the Luga River line. This had the effect of creating siege positions from the Gulf of Finland to Lake Ladoga, with the eventual aim of isolating Leningrad from all directions. The Finnish Army was then expected to advance along the eastern shore of Lake Ladoga.

German Order of Battle

-Army Group North (Feldmarschall von Leeb
-18th Army (von Küchler)
-XXXXII Corps (2 infantry divisions)
-XXVI Corps (3 infantry divisions)

-16th Army (Busch)
-XXVIII Corps (von Wiktorin) (2 infantry, 1 armoured divisions)
-I Corps (2 infantry divisions)
-X Corps (3 infantry divisions)
-II Corps (3 infantry divisions)
-(L Corps — Under 9th Army) (2 infantry divisions)

-4th Panzer Group (Hoepner)
-XXXVIII Corps (von Chappuis) (1 infantry division)
-XXXXI Motorized Corps (Reinhardt) (1 infantry, 1 motorised, 1 armoured divisions)
-LVI Motorized Corps (von Manstein) (1 infantry, 1 motorised, 1 panzergrenadier)

Finnish Order Of Battle

-Finnish Defence Forces HQ (Finnish Marshal Mannerheim)
-I Corps (2 infantry divisions)
-II Corps (2 infantry divisions)
-IV Corps (3 infantry divisions)

Soviet Union Order Of Battle

-Northern Front (Lieutenant General Popov)
-7th Army (2 rifle, 1 militia divisions, 1 naval infantry brigade, 3 motorised rifle and 1 armoured regiments)

-8th Army
-X Rifle Corps (2 rifle divisions)
-XI Rifle Corps (3 rifle divisions)
-Separate Units (3 rifle divisions)

-14th Army
-XXXXII Rifle Corps (2 rifle divisions)
-Separate Units (2 rifle divisions, 1 Fortified area, 1 motorised rifle regiment)
23rd Army
-XIX Rifle Corps (3 rifle divisions)
-Separate Units (2 rifle, 1 motorised divisions, 2 Fortified areas, 1 rifle regiment)

-Luga Operation Group
-XXXXI Rifle Corps (3 rifle divisions)
-Separate Units (1 armoured brigade, 1 rifle regiment)

-Kingisepp Operation Group
-Separate Units (2 rifle, 2 militia, 1 armoured divisions, 1 Fortified area)
-Separate Units (3 rifle divisions, 4 guard militia divisions, 3 Fortified areas, 1 rifle brigade)(5)

The Siege Begins

The Arctic convoys using the Northern Sea Route delivered American Lend-Lease and British food and war materiel supplies to the Murmansk railhead (although the rail link to Leningrad was cut off by Finnish armies just north of the city)

Finnish intelligence had broken some of the Soviet military codes and were able to read their low-level communications.Finland's role in Operation Barbarossa was laid out in Hitler's Directive 21, "The mass of the Finnish army will have the task, in accordance with the advance made by the northern wing of the German armies, of tying up maximum Russian (sic - Soviet) strength by attacking to the west, or on both sides, of Lake Ladoga".[34] The last rail connection to Leningrad was severed on 30 August, when the Germans reached the Neva River. On 8 September, the road to the besieged city was severed when the Germans reached Lake Ladoga at Shlisselburg, leaving just a corridor of land between Lake Ladoga and Leningrad which remained unoccupied by Axis forces. Bombing on 8 September caused 178 fires.

On 21 September, German High Command considered the options of how to destroy Leningrad. Simply occupying the city was ruled out "because it would make us responsible for food supply" the solution Decided upon was to siege and bombard the city, starving the residents in the process.

he resolution was to lay the city under siege and bombardment, starving its population. "Early next year we enter the city (if the Finns do it first we do not object), lead those still alive into inner Russia or into captivity, wipe Leningrad from the face of the earth through demolitions, and hand the area north of the Neva to the Finns." On 7 October, Hitler sent a further directive signed by Alfred Jodl reminding Army Group North not to accept capitulation(6)

By August 1941, the Finns had advanced to within 20 km of the northern suburbs of Leningrad at the 1939 Finnish-Soviet border, threatening the city from the north; they were also advancing through East Karelia, east of Lake Ladoga, and threatening the city from the east. The Finnish forces crossed the pre-Winter War border on the Karelian Isthmus by eliminating Soviet salients at Beloostrov and Kirjasalo, thus straightening the frontline so that it ran along the old border near the shores of Gulf of Finland and Lake Ladoga, and those positions closest to Leningrad still lying on the pre-Winter War border. According to Soviet claims, the Finnish advance was stopped in September through resistance by the Karelian Fortified Region.

After the war, Ryti stated: "On August 24, 1941 I visited the headquarters of Marshal Mannerheim. The Germans aimed us at crossing the old border and continuing the offensive to Leningrad. I said that the capture of Leningrad was not our goal and that we should not take part in it. Mannerheim and the military minister Walden agreed with me and refused the offers of the Germans. The result was a paradoxical situation: the Germans could not approach Leningrad from the north..." In fact the German and Finnish armies maintained the siege together until January 1944, but there was little, or no systematic shelling or bombing from the Finnish positions. Mannerheim had spent most of his career in the Imperial Russian Army stationed at old St. Petersburg

The proximity of the Finnish positions – 33–35 km from downtown Leningrad – and the threat of a Finnish attack complicated the defence of the city. At one point the defending Front Commander, Popov, could not release reserves opposing the Finnish forces to be deployed against the Wehrmacht because they were needed to bolster the 23rd Army's defences on the Karelian Isthmus. Mannerheim terminated the offensive on 31 August 1941, when the army had reached the 1939 border. Popov felt relieved, and redeployed two divisions to the German sector on 5 September.

Lieutenant General Paavo Talvela and Colonel Järvinen, the commander of the Finnish Coastal Brigade responsible for Ladoga, proposed to the German headquarters the blocking of Soviet convoys on Lake Ladoga. The German command formed the 'international' naval detachment (which also included the Italian XII Squadriglia MAS) under Finnish command and the Einsatzstab Fähre Ost under German command. These naval units operated against the supply route in the summer and autumn of 1942, the only period the units were able to operate as freezing waters then forced the lightly equipped units to be moved away, and changes in front lines made it impractical to reestablish these units later in the war.

By 8 September, German forces had largely surrounded the city, cutting off all supply routes to Leningrad and its suburbs. Unable to press home their offensive, and facing defences of the city organised by Marshal Zhukov, the Axis armies laid siege to the city for "900 days and nights."

The air attack of 19 September was particularly brutal. It was the heaviest air raid Leningrad would suffer during the war, as 276 German bombers hit the city killing 1,000 civilians. Many of those killed were recuperating from battle wounds in hospitals that were hit by German bombs. Six air raids occurred that day. Five hospitals were damaged in the bombing, as well as the city's largest shopping bazaar. Hundreds of people had run from the street into the store to take shelter from the air raid.

Artillery bombardment of Leningrad began in August 1941, increasing in intensity during 1942 with the arrival of new equipment. It was stepped up further during 1943, when several times as many shells and bombs were used as in the year before. Against this, the Soviet Baltic Fleet Navy aviation made over 100,000 air missions to support their military operations during the siege. German shelling and bombing killed 5,723 and wounded 20,507 civilians in Leningrad during the siege.

To sustain the defence of the city, it was vitally important for the Red Army to establish a route for bringing a constant flow of supplies into Leningrad. This route was effected over the southern part of Lake Ladoga and the corridor of land which remained unoccupied by Axis forces between Lake Ladoga and Leningrad. Transport across Lake Ladoga was achieved by means of watercraft during the warmer months and land vehicles driven over thick ice in winter (hence the route becoming known as "The Ice Road"). The security of the supply route was ensured by the Ladoga Flotilla, the Leningrad PVO Corps, and route security troops. Vital food supplies were thus transported to the village of Osinovets, from where they were transferred and transported over 45 km via a small suburban railway to Leningrad

The two-and-a-half year siege caused the greatest destruction and the largest loss of life ever known in a modern city. On Hitler's express orders, most of the palaces of the Tsars, such as the Catherine Palace, Peterhof Palace, Ropsha, Strelna, Gatchina, and other historic landmarks located outside the city's defensive perimeter were looted and then destroyed, with many art collections transported to Nazi Germany.

The 872 days of the siege caused extreme famine in the Leningrad region through disruption of utilities, water, energy and food supplies. This resulted in the deaths of up to 1,500,000. oldiers and civilians and the evacuation of 1,400,000 more, mainly women and children, many of whom died during evacuation due to starvation and bombardment

Economic destruction and human losses in Leningrad on both sides exceeded those of the Battle of Stalingrad, the Battle of Moscow, or the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. the siege would be the most deadly in human history. Civilians in the city suffered from extreme starvation, especially in the winter of 1941-42. From November 1941 to February 1942 the only food available to the citizen was 125 grams of bread per day, of which 50-60% consisted of sawdust and other inedible admixtures. For about two weeks at the beginning of January 1942,

The Temperature of the city was at a -30*C and this resulted in many of the city's civilians having a hard time even reaching basic food, the death toll peaked at over 100,000 a month in January and February 1942.

Dimitri Lazarev, a diarist during the worst moments in the Leningrad siege, recalls his daughter and niece reciting a terrifying nursery rhyme adapted from a pre-war song:

A dystrophic walked along
With a dull look
In a basket he carried a corpse's arse.
I'm having human flesh for lunch,
This piece will do!
Ugh, hungry sorrow!
And for supper, clearly
I'll need a little baby.
I'll take the neighbours',
Steal him out of his cradle.

The end of the Siege

in 1942 the Sinyavino Offensive. The 2nd Shock and the 8th armies were to link up with the forces of the Leningrad Front. At the same time the German side was preparing an offensive, Operation Nordlicht (Northern Light), to capture the city, using the troops freed up after the capture of Sevastopol. Neither side was aware of the intentions of the other.

The offensive started on 27 August 1942, with some small-scale attacks by the Leningrad front on the 19th, pre-empting "Nordlicht" by a few weeks. The successful start of the operation forced the Germans to redirect troops from the planned "Nordlicht" to counterattack the Soviet armies. The counteroffensive saw the first deployment of the Tiger tank, though with limited success. After parts of the 2nd Shock Army were encircled and destroyed, the Soviet offensive was halted. However the German forces had to also abandon their offensive on Leningrad.

The encirclement was broken in the wake of Operation Iskra (Spark), a full-scale offensive conducted by the Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts. This offensive started in the morning of 12 January 1943. After fierce battles the Red Army units overcame the powerful German fortifications to the south of Lake Ladoga, and on 18 January 1943 the Volkhov Front's 372nd Rifle Division met troops of the 123rd Rifle Brigade of the Leningrad Front, opening a 10–12 km wide land corridor, which could provide some relief to the besieged population of Leningrad.

The siege continued until 27 January 1944, when the Soviet Leningrad-Novgorod Strategic Offensive expelled German forces from the southern outskirts of the city. This was a combined effort by the Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts, along with the 1st and 2nd Baltic Fronts. The Baltic Fleet provided 30% of aviation power for the final strike against the Wehrmacht.[55] In the summer of 1944, the Finnish Defence Forces were pushed back to the other side of the Bay of Vyborg and the Vuoksi River.

Summing up

The Siege had lasted for 2 years, 4 months, 2 weeks and 5 days with the vastly outnumbered Soviets (200,000 men) defending against over 725,000 men of the German army. by the end of the siege.

The German army had 579,985 casualties
The Soviet Army had 3,436,066 casualties

And it left 1.2 million civilians mainly dead from starvation

Sources Used
(1) Unternehmen Barbarossa — Der Marsch nach Russland
(2) Orchestral manoeuvres (part one). From the Observer
(3) Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II, 1941-1944
(4)The Siege of Leningrad, Ballantines Illustrated History of WWII
(5) Siege Of Leningrad Wikipedia OOB
(6)Nuremberg Trial Proceedings Vol. 8", from The Avalon Project at Yale Law School
Feb 2016
Atlantic Ocean
A video of the siege


And some Images

Apr 2016
United Kingdom
The Ottoman invasions of Europe saw huge armies (30,000+) routinely halted at fortresses defended by hundreds or a few thousand. In most (Szigetvar, Guns), they ultimately prevailed, but Eger was the exception. Istvan Dobo and two thousand others held the fort against forty thousand Ottomans.


Ad Honorem
Mar 2010
Anyone remember the name of the Castle in Scotland that was besieged by the Lord of the Isles with a force of about 2000 and defended by only 4 men. (A fifth was able to cut his way through to them)

It's driving me nuts trying to remember it.
Dec 2013
In Italy didn't Giuseppe Garibaldi once defeat an army of 1,000 with only a few dozen men armed with five rifles and some trumpets?

Not a true siege but notable anyway.