Prelude – South from Acre
Following the capture of Acre in 1191, Richard was aware that he needed to capture the port of Jaffa before making an attempt on Jerusalem, Richard began to march down the coast from Acre towards Jaffa in August 1191. Saladin, whose main objective was to prevent the recapture of Jerusalem, mobilised his army to attempt to stop the Crusaders' advance. Richard organised the advance with attention to detail. A large part of the Egyptian fleet had been captured at the fall of Acre, and with no threat from this quarter he could march south along the coast with the sea always protecting his right flank.
Mindful of the lessons of the disaster at Hattin, Richard knew that his army's greatest need was water and that heat exhaustion was its greatest danger. Although pressed for time he proceeded at a relatively slow pace. He marched his army only in the morning before the heat of the day, making frequent rest stops, always beside sources of water. The fleet sailed down the coast in close support, a source of supplies and a refuge for the wounded. Aware of the ever-present danger of enemy raiders and the possibility of hit-and-run attacks, he kept the column in tight formation with a core of twelve mounted regiments, each with a hundred knights. The infantry marched on the landward flank, covering the flanks of the horsemen and affording them some protection from missiles. The outermost ranks of the infantry were composed of crossbowmen. On the seaward side was the baggage and also units of infantry being rested from the continuous harassment inflicted by Saladin's forces. Richard wisely rotated his infantry units to keep them relatively fresh.
Though provoked and tormented by the skirmish tactics of Saladin's archers, Richard's generalship ensured that order and discipline were maintained under the most difficult of circumstances. Baha al-Din ibn Shaddad, the Muslim chronicler and eyewitness, describes the march:
- "The Moslems discharged arrows at them from all sides to annoy them, and force them to charge: but in this they were unsuccessful. These men exercised wonderful self-control; they went on their way without any hurry, whilst their ships followed their line of march along the coast, and in this manner they reached their halting-place."
Baha al-Din also described the difference in power between the Crusader crossbow and the bows of his own army. He saw Frankish infantrymen with from one to ten arrows sticking from their armoured backs marching along with no apparent hurt, whilst the crossbows struck down both horse and man amongst the Muslims.