Saruman’s Uruk-Hai [film version]
The Uruk-Hai that Saruman bred in the caverns of Isengard were considered to be the most advanced form of the orc race. They were much more powerful then a standard orc, as well as being taller and walking in a more upright manner. Most importantly, they were not affected by sunlight. They were also cruel, totally without mercy or compassion; in short, the perfect killer.
Saruman knew when he was ordered to destroy the people of Rohan that he would need an army capable of marching during the day over the vast plains of Rohan. While he already had recruited the orcs of the Misty Mountains, he needed a more powerful warrior. So he began to create his Uruk-Hai in the caverns under Isengard. He also had his orcs start to cut down all the available lumber from the area to fuel the furnaces needed to produce the vast array of weapons for his army.
The Uruk-Hai army that marched on the people of Rohan at Helm’s Deep were among the best equipped and organized in the land. They were taught to fight as one, and were brutally efficient in this area. From the moment the Uruk was spawned, it was drilled and trained to believe they were invincible. They were the fighting Uruk-Hai, and as such could not lose. They felt no pain and felt no fear. They would willingly give their lives if told to do so. But this arrogance had another side to it. Since the Uruk-Hai were told from day one they were invincible, any major defeat would cause a major crack in their armor of self-confidence, and their effectiveness would take a nose dive.
There were five different types of Uruk warriors at Helm’s Deep: the crossbowman, the pikesman, the swordsman, the berserker, and the sapper.
The crossbowman was the ranged attacker of the army. It was them who would attack the defenders of the fortress until the ladders could be brought up against the walls. They were armed with a crossbow, the first army of Middle- Earth to have those weapons. It consisted of a bow mounted horizontally on a rifle-like stock. Set in the stock was a gear with a raised tooth. When the bow was cocked, the cord was set on this tooth. Underneath was a long trigger set parallel to the stock. This had a tooth that fit into the teeth of the firing gear that holds the string. When the Uruk applied pressure to the trigger’s end, the tooth would disengage from the gear, allowing the gear to roll forward and release the string, like when you release a winch under stress. Because of the enormous pressure the string was held at, a regular arrow would shatter when the string hit it, and so the Uruk’s crossbow fired a bolt, a short, thick arrow, made of hardwood and tipped and fletched with iron. The crossbow was a revolutionary weapon because for the first time a archer could fire an arrow, and because of the set draw and range of the crossbow, expect the second arrow to fly to the exact same place. Also, while the crossbow had an inferior rate of fire compared to the longbow, it had much more power. The bolt of a crossbow could penetrate armor and shield, punching deep into flesh, making the crossbow an intimidating and highly effective weapon.
The next type of soldier was the pikeman. These troops were critical because they were very good at fending off cavalry charges. Horses aren’t stupid – they would not charge a solid wall of pikes. Such a wall would cause them to stop short during a charge, thus allowing the Uruk crossbowman to pick them off easily. They were also the first to go through the breech in the Deeping Wall. The pikeman was armed with a eighteen-foot long pike. The pike’s head was almost U-shaped, with a long upper blade and a smaller lower blade. This allowed the pikemen to help push up the ladders against the Deeping Wall, using their pikes as hooks. The pikeman was also armed with a short sword. It was about a foot long and single-edged. It also had a beveled, chisel-like point. The left arm of the pikeman’s sabaton was rounded and spiked, and covered his fist. This allowed the pikeman to slash with his short sword in his right hand and bludgeon with his left in the event he lost his pike.
The next and most common troop in the army was the swordsman. They were the primary fighting unit at the assault on Helm’s Deep, as well as the most numerous. The swordsman was armed, as you might guess, with a sword. It was a very industrial weapon, with its shape not changed much from its ingot. They were cast instead of being forged, because the orc smiths at Isengard did not have time to forge proper swords. As a result, the Uruk swords were softer then their enemy’s as well as heavier, as much as 10lbs. But its weight, combined with an Uruk-Hai’s natural strength, was still enough to rip off an enemy’s head. The sword itself was long and single edged, like a meat cleaver. It was about 3 inches wide along the length of the blade, narrowing to about half that at the handle, which was wrapped in leather. At the end of the sword, opposite to the blade was a 3-inch long spike, which could be used to trip an enemy’s horse or to punch through armor. The swordsman was also equipped with a shield. This helped to offset the weight of the sword and give the Uruk-Hai additional protection. The shield was almost rectangular, with a slight point at the bottom. The top of the shield had a pair of spikes, which could be used as weapons and helped to serve another purpose – at the base of each shield were two metal rings, as well as an additional grip at the top. When the Uruk-Hai were bringing the ram up to the gates of Helm’s Deep, the point of one Uruk-Hai’s shield would slip into the back ring of the Uruk-Hai in front of him, and he would grab the second grip of his shield. All the Uruks in the outside of the formation would do this, creating a single wall of shields. This, coupled with the Uruks in the center of the formation holding their shield above their head, created a tortoise, a formation of unit protected on all sides from arrows. When the formation was up to the gates, Uruk sappers carried the battering ram up through the center of the formation to the gates. Also in the formation were Uruk crossbowmen, who would fire at defenders when a hole had been made in the door. The tortoise formation was extremely hard to defeat because of its protection against arrows, and it was only through the heroics of Aragorn and Gimli that the defenders were able to shore up the gate.
The next type of solider at Helm’s Deep was the berserker. These were highly specialized soldiers, and only thirty went with the army from Isengard. Their task was simple: to ride the siege ladders up the Deeping Wall, and hold off the defenders long enough for the other swordsmen to climb up the ladder, a task at which they excelled. Berserkers were much larger then normal Uruks, as much as six and a half feet tall and up to three hundred pounds. Also, they wore no armor, just a metal bowl helmet that completely encased the head, with two eyeholes. It is said that before battle, they would fill their helmets with the blood of their enemies. The intoxicating smell would drive them into a bloodlust, which was almost impossible to satisfy. Saruman gave no thought to the long-term survival of the Berserkers, and the rest of his army to a lesser extent. He knew that the Berserkers needed only to secure a beachhead on the wall long enough for additional troops to climb the wall, after which they were expendable. The Berserker was armed with a massive, five foot long sword, which branched into two long points at the end of the blade, like an elongated tee. With a sword that long, it was almost impossible to get close enough to the Berserker to land a blow. The only way to kill them was to shoot them with an arrow, or attack them as they was still on the ladder. While this weapon was not particularly efficient, for example the tee could get fouled up in an enemy’s body, the shear strength of a berserker made it a highly intimidating weapon. The Berserker was also armed with a sabaton on its left hand that ended in a pair of spikes, allowing the Berserker to kill with a single punch. It was also a Berserker who detonated the bomb in the culvert under the Deeping Wall.
The last type of troop that was present at the battle of Helm’s Deep was the Sapper. These are an oddity in that they carried no weapons. These were the guys who raised the siege ladders against the Deeping Wall, they wielded the battering ram against the gates, they fired the ballistas against the Hornburg, and carried the two bombs to the battle and placed them in the culvert. The ballistas were technological marvels, one of the most advanced weapons on Middle-earth. They were about twenty feet long and fired a steel bolt fifteen feet long. The end of the bolt had three prongs that fit perfectly into the battlements of the Hornburg. At the other end of the bolt was an eye-ring. A rope was run through this ring before the bolt was fired. When it was fired, the bolt would land between the battlements, securing itself tightly. Then one end of the rope was attached to the eighty foot long siege ladders used against the Hornburg. Then the sappers would pull on the other end of the rope, using the grapple as a pulley and making it possible to raise the ladder, swarming with Uruks, against the wall. The length of the grapple made it impossible to reach out and cut the rope with a sword, and the only way to cut it was with a well-placed arrow.
The armor worn by the Uruks was all of identical design, with the orc smiths required to make huge amounts of it, they could not really deviate from a set pattern. As a result, this armor was not as well fitting as the armor of other races, though it was just as effective at protecting its wearer. While Saruman did not overly care for the long-term survival of his Uruk-Hai, they had to survive only long enough to get them through the battle. Because of this, all the armor an Uruk wore was concentrated at the front, with nothing but light leather protecting their backs. This made it easier for the orc smiths, as they didn’t have to make so much armor. It also re-enforced the attack-only philosophy of the Uruk-Hai, as to turn their backs in retreat meant immediate death. All the Uruks at the battle, except the sappers and Berserkers were equipped very similarly.
All had a cuirass composed of a steel breastplate and a mail hauberk underneath. They also had several steel lames under their breastplates to protect their abdomen. They were also equipped with a pair of steel greeves and sabatons on their legs and arms. These were more for protection when wading through bodies than actual combat, as they still left the elbows and knees vulnerable. In addition to these, the swordsmen and the pikemen were equipped with 4-lamed pauldrons on each shoulder.
The major difference in armor between the divisions were the helmets. The swordsmen and the pikemen had similar helmets, with the crest on the back of the skull larger on the pikeman’s helmet. On each one, the cheek guards extended out past the face into points, which were the same distance apart as a man’s eyes, giving the Uruk a particularly nasty means of killing a foe. The crossbowman’s helmet had no cheek guards and a small visor.
While all the swordsmen, pikemen, crossbowmen, berserkers and sappers were from one batch or “crop”, there were about another one hundred and ten that were bred several months earlier. One hundred or so of these went out in that party of Uruk-Hai seen in the end of the Fellowship of the Ring. They were a special breed of Uruk – much smarter then the average Uruk at Helm’s Deep. They were also trained to a much higher standard then the Helm’s Deep Uruks, and they were trained to fight as individuals, instead of as a group. They were adept in combat with a bow as well as a sword. The leader of this raiding party was named Lurtz. He stood out among the rest as an able warrior and a skilled tactician. He was skilled in the use of the sword and bow, and it was he who killed Boromir at Amon Hen, and Aragorn was only barely able to defeat him.
The armor worn by these raiders was drastically different from that worn by the army at Helm’s Deep. Where the Helm’s Deep Uruks wore full plate, the raiders had only leather cloth. They were equipped with a helmet with a metal top, but it was fastened on with leather straps under the chin. At the front of the helmet, just above the forehead, was a small metal blade that could in a pinch be used as a weapon, but was more for intimidation. The reason they were so lightly armed was Saruman knew that the Uruks would have to cover great distances in order to intercept the Ringbearer. He also knew that they would need to avoid the roaming patrols of the Rohirrim so they could reach their target alive.
The principal weapon of the raiding party was not the sword but the bow. This was the only weapon that they would have been able to use to fight off a Rohirrim attack, as they would have been cut down by a charge by the horsemen if they had tried to use swords. Saruman knew also of the formidable fighting skills of the Fellowship, and knew this was the best way to fight them in combat – as Boromir would find out. The primary reason that the Uruks were fighting with their swords in the movie was because the close-knit trees of Amon Hen would have made their bows useless at range, and they did not have the skill to fight close quarters with a bow as Legolas did. Their bows were long bows, about six feet long. They were also composite bows, with a metal core and wooden arms. They were strung with leather thongs. The metal core would have put the wooden arms under great strain, and the bows would probably break after three or four shots. The core also gave the bows an incredible draw weight, said to be almost three hundred pounds. If that is true then only an Uruk could have drawn the bow with any accuracy.
The arrow fired by the bows was long, upwards of four feet long. It was made of ash, and tipped with an iron bodkin. It was fletched with Warg hair slicked together with tar. The Raiders swords and shields were of the same design as that of the Helm’s Deep swordsmen.
All info provided by: Lord of the Rings; Weapons and Warfare by Chris Smith