Rotting Ships and Razed Harbors: The Naval Policy of the Mamluks
By Albrecht Fuess
Mamluk Studies Review, Vol.5 (2001)
Synopsis: This article will review the three most important components of Mamluk naval policy and assess the effectiveness of that policy in securing the coast. This three-part review will be followed by a discussion of why the Mamluks never initiated a lasting program to build and maintain a fleet. The main aim of the Mamluks after the expulsion of the Crusaders from the Syro-Palestinian coast in 1291 was to prevent their return and to that end they destroyed the harbors there.
This ‘scorched earth’ policy was designed to prevent the Crusaders from capturing a fortified town on the coast and using it as a base for further operations in Syria. The razing of harbors was combined with the transfer of the line of defense further inland from the coast, where fortifications were built and troops garrisoned. These troops could deploy to the coast within days if an attack by Frankish forces took place.