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Battle of the Pelennor Fields

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Battle of Pelennor Fields
The Battle of the Pelennor Fields as depicted in Peter Jackson's film adaptation of The Return of the King
Conflict: Battle of the Pelennor Fields
Date: March 15, 3019 T.A.
Place: Minas Tirith and fields of Pelennor, Gondor
Outcome: Victory of Gondor and Rohan

Gondor, Rohan

Mordor, Harad, Rhûn, Khand


In Minas Tirith: Minas Tirith Garrison and Northern Army of Gondor (strength unknown) supported by small southern contingent (<3000). 6,000 Rohirrim cavalry arriving from the north at dawn, later reinforced by an unknown number of Men of Southern Gondor under Aragorn arriving from the south

Unknown total strength, but vast numerical superiority to Gondor's forces in Minas Tirith.; possibly over 200,000. Forces consisting of Orcs, Trolls, Wargs, Oliphaunts, the Nazgûl, 18,000 Haradrim, and thousands of Easterlings (men of Rhûn, Variags of Khand, etc.)

Battle of Pelennor Fields was the greatest battle of the War of the Ring, and indeed the largest of the entire Third Age.

The Books

After the fall of Osgiliath there was no longer a barrier against the forces of Mordor, which moved on the Pelennor Fields before the city on March 15, 3019 of the Third Age as the Great Darkness blotted out the sun.

Mordor's troops consisted of more than 30,000 Easterlings and Haradrim, numerous oliphaunts, and thousands of Orcs; The defenders' numbers were considerably less despite the addition of about 8,000 men from southern Gondor in the days before the battle.

The attackers used catapults not only to attack the city, through bombardment and flames, but also to fire the heads of slain men from Osgiliath and other places Mordor's armies had passed through into it. Later on, the great battering ram Grond (named after Morgoth's weapon from the First Age) was put into action.

Before dawn Grond was used to break the city's main gate, and the Witch-king rode into the city unchallenged, save by Gandalf. Before Gandalf's strength was put to the test, however, the cock crowed and the horns of Rohan were heard as around 6,000 of their riders joined the battle. Mordor's strategy for keeping Rohan out of the battle had failed twice, both through the defeat at Helm's Deep and the blockade in Anorien. So the Witch-king was forced to ride out and attack them instead of fighting Gandalf and destroying the city.

King Théoden's charge drove the Mordor forces from the northern half of the field, and charging the Haradrim cavalry he slew the Southron chieftain, the Black Serpent, and cut down his standardbearer.

When the Witch-king's fell beast attacked King Théoden of Rohan, the king's horse Snowmane lost control, and was hit by an arrow. Snowmane fell with the king atop him, and the horse landed on him, which proved fatal. The warrior Dernhelm, defending the king's body, slew the fell beast and challenged its rider. The Witch-king mocked him, telling him that no living man might slay him, but the Hobbit Meriadoc Brandybuck (Merry) wounded him with a sword that had been forged centuries before during the war between Arnor and Angmar and which contained spells against the Witch-king. The spells finally found their target, for the Witch-king was distracted and possibly seriously weakened. He was then slain by Dernhelm, now revealed as Théoden's niece Éowyn and thus no man at all. The Black Breath caused both Merry and Éowyn to become gravely ill, and they were sent to the Houses of Healing in the city. Command of the Rohirrim then passed to Théoden's nephew and heir, Third Marshall Éomer.

At the same time, Faramir, son of Denethor, Steward of Gondor, was also gravely wounded. Despairing at the visions of defeat that Sauron had sent him via his palantír, and believing Faramir to be beyond aid, Denethor prepared to burn himself and his son upon a funeral pyre. Only the intervention of Peregrin Took and Gandalf saved Faramir, but Denethor immolated himself before they could prevent him.

Meanwhile, the battle turned against the Rohirrim. The Southrons charged with their Mûmakil (Oliphaunts) and wherever they went horses went wild with fear or were trampled underfoot, and the forces of Mordor rallied around them like islands of defense that the Rohirrim cavalry could not overtake. Éomer, grim after the death of Théoden but shocked by the unexpected (seeming) death of his sister Éowyn, the last living member of his family, flew into a berserker rage and charged his cavalry headlong into the larger enemy forces. So great was the wrath of the outnumbered Rohirrim at the death of their King that they broke through the superior Mordor forces, hammering deep wedges into the Mordor legions' front lines. However, this soon turned against Éomer: his cavalry had pierced the Enemy front lines so quickly that his company was now cut off from the other two, and surrounded between Mordor's front lines and their reserves. Fighting their way to the docks near the Harlond south of the city, Éomer desperately circled up his men on a hill and prepared to fight to the death, when he saw enemy reinforcements sailing up the River Anduin, and let out a defiant cry at his approaching end.

One of the visions that Denethor had seen was of a fleet of enemy ships with black sails arriving at the landings to the south of the Pelennor in the Rammas, but what he had not seen was that they were actually manned by Aragorn and other Rangers of the North, Gimli, Legolas, Elladan, Elrohir and many reinforcements from southern fiefdoms of Gondor. As Aragorn's army drove north a great part of Mordor's forces were pinned between Aragorn and Eomer's cavalry, and were "caught between the hammer and the anvil". Aragorn's army then linked with Eomer's, and with their aid the tide of battle was finally turned, and a brief respite was won until the Last Battle before the Black Gate.

There is no clearly stated final death toll for the Battle of Pelennor Fields. There is a definite figure for the cavalry of the Rohirrim that came to Gondor's defence; it consisted of 6,000 riders, and a full 2,000 were killed in the battle, including Théoden. Of the 5 to 6 thousand Gondorian defenders of Minas Tirith, and the large relief force of Gondor's southern provinces led by Aragorn, no definite figure remains. Two days after the battle, Aragorn led an army out to attack the Black Gate that consisted of 7,000 men (When he reached the Black Gate he had less than 6,000); 2,000 Rohirrim and 5,000 Gondorians. The size of Aragorn's relief force may have been over 10,000 or as little as 1,000, it is never stated. However, even a conservative estimate would place total Gondorian losses at 3,000, and more probably 5,000.

As for enemy losses, again, the size of Sauron's great army is not definitely known. There were at the very least 60,000, and this is almost surely an overconservative estimation. In Peter Jackson's movie adaptation, the enemy numbered over 200,000, and this may be accurate with the number present in the text. It is known that there were some 18,000 Haradrim. (The Rohirrim, consisting of 6,000 riders, were "thrice outnumbered by the Haradrim alone".) The Enemy's army was utterly destroyed on the field: all War Mûmakil were killed, the Lord of the Nazgûl was slain, numerous Trolls, and perhaps all of the Orcs (which composed the majority of the army) were killed, those that retreated drowning in the River Anduin. Many Easterlings and Haradrim proudly fought to the death when the tide turned, even as the Orcs were cowardly running away, with few escaping to send news of the power and wrath of Gondor to lands east and south.

The Films

The battle is the major centrepiece of Peter Jackson's The Return of the King, although some of the events described above are simplified or altered for cinematic purposes. Importance is given to the charge of the Mûmakil, the death of Théoden and the Witch-king's demise at the hands of Eowyn.

The battle begins with Sauron's forces marching on city and firing a volley of severed heads over the walls (as in the book). Initially, both Sauron's army and the defenders of Minas Tirith exchange fire by way of catapults and trebuchets. The flying Ringwraiths then descend from the skies, spreading fear throughout the city and destroying many catapults. Seeing Mordor's overwhelming army, Denethor despairs and Gandalf assumes command of the defenders. He helps them hold out until Théoden and over six thousand Rohirrim arrive, decimating the invading orcs. However, Sauron's reserves soon arrive with several Oliphaunts, commanded by the Haradrim, who turn the tide against the Rohirrim. Fortunately, Aragorn arrives with the Army of the Dead (see Paths of the Dead), who crush Sauron's forces. This is an alteration from the book, in which the Dead depart after they defeat the Corsairs and liberate Pelargir, after which Gondor's Southern Army is now free to rally to Aragorn. Peter Jackson likely wanted to make the Army of the Dead more of a focus in the story, giving them greater impact in the overall scheme of events and, thus, giving greater significance to Aragorn's decision to take the Paths of the Dead, as well as his trials therein. In the theatrical cut of the film, the scenes at Pelargir are cut entirely. The filmmakers felt that tension would be better maintained by not letting the audience know whether or not Aragorn was successful in recruiting the Dead Army. The Pelargir were restored for the extended cut of the movie.

War of the Ring
Osgiliath (1) · Fords of Isen · Isengard · Hornburg · Osgiliath (2) · Dale · Siege of Gondor · Pelennor Fields · Black Gate · Dol Guldur · Bywater