Dr. David Nicolle has done a great many medieval warfare titles for Osprey and by now, most readers know what to expect from him: a scholarly, well-written account with a faint pro-Muslim bias and very little in the way of military details or analysis. Osprey's Campaign No. 204, The Second Crusade: Disaster Outside Damascus, remains true to form. What I found most confusing about this volume was the author's use of the terms "siege" and "disaster" to describe this campaign. By definition, a siege occurs when a city is surrounded and food supplies into it are curtailed or disrupted, but in this case, the Crusader forces never succeeded in surrounding Damascus or even preventing Muslim reinforcements from entering the city. Granted, other sources have described Damascus as a siege, but it seems that the author never bothered to question this characterization. As for the `disaster' part, it's difficult to see that either. Clearly, the Crusade failed in its military objectives to re-conquer either Edessa or to capture Damascus, but these setbacks did not result in any apparent heavy military losses or loss of territories. This battle was not like the Battle of Hattin in 1187 where the bulk of the Crusader army was destroyed, leading to the loss of Jerusalem. In this case, both participating monarchs - the German King Konrad III and French King Louis VII returned home and the author provides no data to support the idea that Christian casualties were crippling. Taken together, these questionable assumptions suggest that the author wants to depict the campaign as a harbinger of doom for the Crusader States, which seems to be more of a subjective and emotional conclusion than one based on facts. There is no doubt that the Second Crusade came up a cropper, but this volume offers only one interpretation of its outcome.
The author spends 12 pages in the introduction and chronology providing the background of the Second Crusade. As he states, the proximate cause was the Islamic reconquest of the city of Edessa, which sparked a desire in Western Europe to lend military aid to the endangered Crusader States. He also notes that the Muslim forces in the area were not that strong and divided into three main factions, while the creation of the Templar and Hospitaller military orders had increased the defensive capabilities of the Crusader States. The section on opposing commanders provides some insight into the leadership but the 10-page section on opposing forces is almost useless. The author makes minimal effort to comment on the possible size or composition of the opposing forces at Damascus. The opposing plans sections reads like this: Christians determined to attack somewhere, decide on Damascus, while Muslims wait and see.
The campaign narrative itself is 39 pages long, but much covers the Crusaders march through Byzantine lands, leaving barely 6-7 pages to cover the actual Battle of Damascus. It is apparent reading this account, that the German crusaders under King Konrad III came to grief in Anatolia and the French were only slightly better off; the real failure of the crusade was the inability to reach the intended operational area with sufficient combat power to achieve anything meaningful. Once they reached the Crusader States with the remnants of their armies, Konrad and Louis agreed to local suggestions to go after Damascus, under the expectation that it was low-hanging fruit. Instead - and Dr. Nicolle, you should have been doing this analysis - the Muslim military leader in Damascus was able to rally enough militia to put up a stout resistance on the approaches to the city. Faced with an armed populace of a major city and reports of an approaching Muslim relief army, the outnumbered Crusaders opted to withdraw before they had even established a siege. Again, the fact that Damascus was not invested and that not a single assault was mounted against its walls, suggests that there never was a siege. Once the crusaders realized that there would be no cheap victory, they quickly skedaddled back to their own territory. The author concludes that, "the Crusader States were now practically exhausted, militarily and financially..." What? The entire invasion and `siege' lasted little more than a week and he mentions that the King of Jerusalem only had to pay his troops if they served in the field for extended periods. He even mentions that the Crusaders managed to capture the important city of Ascalon a few years later, which seems to contradict this conclusion. At any rate, the lack of analysis has led the author to make conclusions that are not supported.
Graphically, The Second Crusade is rather mediocre, as many of the Medieval warfare titles are. I realize that it is very difficult to obtain decent photographs and illustrations for these subjects, but there has to be something better than providing photos of various objects ranging from wall paintings, to ceramic beakers to a "glazed ceramic bottle stopper." These are the kind of artifacts that might excite a medieval scholar such as Dr. Nicolle, but leave most readers who pick up these volumes for the military content utterly stupefied. In terms of maps, there are five 2-D maps and two 3-D BEV maps. Most of the 2-D maps are rather crowded and show strategic areas of operation, with only the last two offering details that relate to the actual attack on Damascus. The three battle scenes by Christa Hook (King Louis VII takes refuge on a rock during the Battle of Mount Cadmus, 8 January 1148; Anur tries to persuade al-Findalawi not to go with the Ahdath militia to fight the invading crusaders, 25 July 1148; a crusader supply unit is ambushed outside Damascus, 27 July 1148) are rather crude - as they always seems to be in these Medieval warfare volumes. On the plus side, the author provides a detailed 4-page bibliography, which far exceeds the norm for Osprey volumes.