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Medieval Articles
The Battle of Tondibi
The Battle of Pinkie Cleugh
The Siege of Mazagan, 1562
The Sharif and the Sultan of Fishermen
Ninety Five Theses and the Revolution
Cairo’s Fortress on the Mountain
Armenian Warriors, Japanese Samurai
Armenians in Strategikon
Sir Thomas Stukeley
Constantinople - Citadel at the Gate
The Battle of Poyang Lake
Apocalypse Then
Seapower in the Yuan Dynasty
The Hundred Years War: An Analysis
Muslim Invasion of Iberia
The Onin War
Battle of Shrewsbury

Trombetta and Ippolito Articles
Seapower in the Yuan Dynasty

Recommended Reading

A History of Warfare

The History of the Mongol Conquests

The Mongols

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The Emergence of Seapower in the Yuan Dynasty 
The Emergence of Seapower in the Yuan Dynasty: The Transformation of Mongol Warfighting through a Revolution in Military Affairs (1258-1281)
by Commander John J. Trombetta, U.S. Navy, PhD and Steven C. Ippolito, M.A.


John Keegan views the Mongolian war-making polity[1] as a fusion of the "horse and human ruthlessness[.]" The great khans, Chinggis, Ogodei, Mongke, and Khublai Khan, gathered the martial energies of the steppe nomad in the quest for Empire, and released them like so many dogs of war upon Asia, Europe, China, Korea, the Middle East of Persians and Arabs, and Japan. Results were startling: extraordinary political changes that reworked the map of the thirteenth century Asia, and a transformation of war in the Asian steppe "making it for the first time," in the view of Keegan, "'a thing in itself.'"[2] Tribal society on the steppe, therefore, was a highly-militarized experience, where the "fit and adult males of a horse people were the army[.]"[3] Kenneth Chase[4] wrote in 2003 that the Mongol population probably never exceeded two million people. Every man, thus, had to serve as a soldier, and to master the art of the horse and the powerful composite bow at an early age. The Mongols used both for hunting and battle, and in armed conflict, the horse nomads used them to wage nothing less than "'true war .'"[5] The horse nomads used force without limit,[6] and the goal was always ""outright victory."[7] This unique warfighting and cultural dynamism[8] helped the Mongols to leave the steppe as conquerors, in order to bring their unity of horse[9] and violence to an important neighboring polity: China. New challenges in China, however, forced a crisis in the Mongolian military; the steppe nomads were forced to embrace new tactics and weapons' systems, not based upon the horse in order to confront the Song Dynasty. In China, the Mongol encountered rivers where none existed on the steppe.

Here, the warhorse was less effective. Victory, therefore, required military adaptation, the inclusion of warships and naval infantry as well as cavalry. Accordingly, this paper will advance the idea hat the rise of a Mongol Navy,[10] that utilized an ad hoc mixture of sea soldiers, naval infantry[11] and marines[12] was critical to the success of Khublai Khan's campaign to subjugate the Song Dynasty in China.[13] Seapower in China contributed to a profound transformation of Mongol warfighting, Khublai's forces, with the help of Song defectors, mastered the tactical problems posed by the watercourses of China and riverine warfare. After China, warships, sailors, marines, and naval infantry participated in the realization of the Mongols' geo-strategic vision. This was a watershed military moment for the people of the horse, for after China, the horse was no longer supreme. Additionally, this paper will examine the nature of social organization and warfighting on the Mongol steppe, prior to the days of empire. In undergoing this profound change, this paper proposes that the Mongols necessarily-experienced a phenomenon much discussed by modern military historians since the 1990s; the so-called Revolution in Military Affairs or R.M.A.

The concept of a revolution in military affairs was introduced in 1955 by historian, Michael Roberts. His model for the RMA, however, was not the Mongols, but the Swedish warrior-king, Gustavus Adolphus, who "had embarked on a military revolution that had swept away traditional approaches to military organization and tactics throughout the West."[14] In 1991, the spring meeting of the Society of Military History proposed that European military institutions since the 1300s demonstrate "periods of violent change followed by periods of relative calm in which armies had adapted to major changes in their environment, a pattern which evolutionary biologists have called punctuated equilibrium."[15]

Military revolutions recast society and the state as well as military organizations. They alter the capacity of states to create and project military power. And their effects are additive. [16]

With respect to the East, can military historians hypothesize that an R.M.A. occurred amongst the Mongols in thirteenth China? The present authors answer in the affirmative. David C. Wright states that the movement of the Mongol from the steppe to the rivers of China represents a highly "important geo-political military development in thirteenth-century Eurasian history."[17] Mongol warriors responded[18] to China with tactical and strategic versatility. On the steppe, Mongol fighting institutions were characterized by a monopoly of light and heavy cavalry units. This is not surprising: naval and even infantry operations cannot be deployed in a wide, vast, utterly dry land. Geography and the need to migrate seasonally insured that in war, the horse and cavalry were vital to the tribes' survival. But the problems posed by the invasion of Song China, particularly the encounter with the Yangzi and other bodies of water in China, required a new military paradigm, to wit: naval and amphibious operations.

The military problems posed by Song China could not be solved through cavalry squadrons. Thus, a more inclusive and comprehensive approach to warfighting emerged. Seapower and amphibious operations were logical tactical developments in pursuit of a strategic goal. Militarily, the result for the Mongol was a powerful Revolution in Military Affairs. Thus, the Mongol changed, militarily, in China. Yet, one should not conclude that change permeated all of post-Song Mongol imperial society. Under Khublai Khan, the horse nomads continued to follow many of the old steppe ways.

The scattering of mare's milk, for example, a ceremony born upon the steppe, was performed annually as a kind of New Year's ritual. In the post-Chinggisid era, the Mongols always offered koumiss, a drink of alcoholic mare's milk as a libation to Tenggeri, the Sky God before they went into battle. Though the Mongols were tolerant of religion generally, they did not abandon Mongolian shamanism in Yuan China, for themselves. The Mongols continued to wear native clothing, costumes of fur and leather.[19] They continued to revere the horse, but before their day was done the horse nomads became khans and emperors. They would dismount from the saddle to mount the decks of ships. Where once they fought only on land, the Mongols would fight from the sterncastles of ships as sailors, marines, and naval infantry--- warriors from the sea.

Mongolia: The Beginnings

Marco Polo (1254-1324),[20] described his experiences in China amongst the Yuan while incarcerated in Italy. Dictating his reminiscences to fellow prisoner, Rustichello da Pisa, Polo identified the Mongols by the term, tartar.

"The Tartars never remain fixed, but as the winter approaches remove to…a warmer region, to find sufficient pasture for their cattle; and in summer they frequent cold areas in the mountains…They have the best falcons…and…the best dogs."[21]

To explain the progression of the Mongol polity from a confederation of steppe hunter-warriors who would eventually experience a powerful revolution in military affairs, it is essential to know something about their pre-Chinggisid days. The steppe was a challenging environment.[22] There are few rivers or streams. Rainfall is erratic, and the climate can manifest in strange ways. Snow in mid-summer is not a meteorological impossibility, and the only real vegetation that grows on the steppe is wild grass. To survive, internal discipline was essential amongst the tribes.

Mongol society was organized for labor by age and gender: women and children managed the tents; men and young boys would hunt or engage in steppe warfare.[23] The Mongols were highly-dependent upon their flocks of animals for nourishment.[24] When hunting or on campaign, the Mongols survived upon dried milk and meat. If needed, they would even drink the blood of their horses while traveling. For males, the primary tribal tasks were fighting and hunting, though not even the hunt or the husbanding of animal herds relieved the tribes of their need for goods that always seemed to lack. Chronic need resulted in the aggressive pursuit of basic necessities by the Mongol tribes from their neighbors and the Chinese. Survival required military cohesion which, in turn, fostered the Mongols' emergence into a confederation of tribes and, ultimately, a nation. Inter-tribal cooperation, therefore, was evident in even the most basic of group activities: migration between pastures, the pitching of tents, or the herding of the tribes' flocks.[25]

According to Chase, common traditions existed between tribes, including myths of a common ancestry, and the tribal chiefs were selected from the leading Mongol families.[26] These chieftains had unique responsibilities for the tribes' welfare in war, hunting, and seasonal movement. In cold weather, the tribes moved south; in summer, they went north. To avoid overgrazing, it was essential that they spend limited time-- no more than several months at a time—at any one location. This difficult and nomadic life, devoid of any real technology meant that the Mongols would build neither cities, nor dwellings in the fashion of the Chinese. Shelter was a tent made of sticks, interwoven with felt that sometimes reached thirty feet in diameter. When camp was dissembled, the tents were loaded upon wagons moved by oxen or camel, though travel was slow for the tribes, no more than a few miles per day.[27]

Travel across the steppe, therefore, required inter-tribal cooperation. Pragmatic necessity required that the tribes demonstrate some degree of confederation.[28] Chase writes that in the Mongol experience, "there was an evolving political tradition on the steppe that contributed to the formation of larger and more stable confederations over time."[29] Inter-tribal cooperation can be discerned in the Mongols' hunting parties. Chase understands the steppe hunt to represent a boot camp experience for future Mongol warriors. The hunt, then, was a de facto preparation for war. Both depended upon two critical elements: the horse and the bow.

Mongol hunter-warriors demonstrated deep spiritual reverence for the horse. Mongol shamans, walkers-between-the-worlds, sacrificed their beloved horses in rituals that permitted subsequent transport to heaven. The sacrifice of these beloved creatures was not the result of some wanton act of destruction; it was, rather, a spiritual testimonial to the power and importance of the horse in Mongol society. The Mongols spent practically their whole lives in the saddle. Infant children were transported by horse. Generally, the children were tied with a rope to a board, which, in turn, was tied behind the saddle of the mother's horse. By age three, a Mongol child might be fastened to the saddle of their own horse, and by age four or five they were given small bows and small arrows to begin to learn to hunt.[30] Yet, the horse, prized and valued for the hunt, was even more valued by the Mongol for its contribution to warfare. Mongol ponies were especially fast on a gallop. They allowed cavalrymen to employ guerrilla-style attacks with great effectiveness. Raiding in this fashion often forced the enemy cavalry to pursue, but because these enemies lived in established settlements, they could not chase Mongols for too long a period of time.

The Mongols, on the other hand, lived in nomadic fashion-- they had no home to return to other than the land of the steppe. This rootless existence increased their chances for success in battle, and throughout the Mongol polity, the feigned retreat remained a favorite tactical approach designed to lead pursuers on a fruitless chase to their own destruction.[31]

In both hunt and war, the Mongols made great use of the so-called composite bow, a formidable weapon-system constructed of sinew and horn. Unlike other cavalry forces, the Mongols mastered the art of shooting accurately from the saddle in full-gallop. In comparison to the English longbow,[32] whose range was 250 yards, the Mongol composite bow had a range of 350 yards.[33] In addition to weapons, Mongol equipment in other areas can only be described as excellent. With respect to cavalry equipment, one should not be surprised that it was state-of-the-art. The Mongol saddle was constructed of wood and leather, and to retard shrinkage and cracking, it was regularly rubbed down with the fat of sheep. Mongol saddlebags contained the cavalryman's necessary utilities: water bottles, pots for cooking, yogurt and desiccated meat. The stirrup allowed the cavalryman to seat himself with greater security, in order to discharge his missiles (arrows) with greater accuracy. Horse-borne Mongol archers were well-known for their skill with the composite bow, as more than one enemy learned to its detriment. On campaign, Mongol cavalrymen would bring three or four horses, so as not to exhaust the animals on long journeys, placing leather coverings on their heads, and utilizing armor to protect the horse's body.[34] This combination of training, tactics, ordnance, and organization, insured that the Mongol cavalry was a highly-effective fighting force as so many enemies would learn.

The Battle of the Kalka River, now called the Kalmyus River, represents this fusion of martial elements that characterize the martial skill of the horse nomads in the thirteenth century.

The Battle of the Kalka River—May 1223

Searching for new lands to dominate, two redoubtable Mongol captains, Jebe and Subedei led 30,000 men into Russia. Between 1219 and 1220, Chinggis Khan had already conquered much of Central Asia, but being ever-hungry for more, he decided to campaign in Russia. In a short time, Jebe and Subedei encountered a larger force of cavalry from Russian Georgia who immediately gave chase. Vastly outnumbered, the Mongols engaged in one of their favorite tactics, the feigned retreat. Leading the Georgians and their large horses on a lively chase, the Mongols took careful note when the larger Russian horses began to show signs of exhaustion. At a designated area where there were reserve horses, the Mongols changed mounts and charged the Georgians joined by their expert horse archers. Attacking in force, the Mongols insured that the Georgians were routed.[35]

After the departure of the Georgians, the Mongols continued their reconnaissance-in-force, crossing the Caucasus Mountains. The journey was hazardous. Many men and animals died along the way, but the Mongols were successfully able to raid a number of Russian locations. The Russians, however, counter-attacked in May 1223, when the military commander, Mstislav the Daring, personally-led a force of 80,000 men against the invaders of his country. When Mstislav located the enemy, he attacked. Once again, the greatly outnumbered Mongols under Jebe and Subedei utilized the feigned retreat. They led the Russians on a chase that lasted about a week.

The Mongols expected this, and the vigorous pursuit of their force by the large, Russian force, resulted in large gaps in the Russian formation. This is precisely what Jebe and Subedei wanted. And the fleeing Mongols did everything possible to maintain the pursuit while the enemy fell into an irregular formation with spaces in the formation. This greatly diminished their tactical power, although it would not become apparent until the battle commenced. The chase continued, but not until they reached the Kalka River did the Mongols finally turn to confront the Russians and fight.

Mounted archers attacked first. Recklessly, the Russians moved to meet the attack with their advance troops, though prudence might have dictated that they first wait and regroup to attain their full strength. But most of Mstislav's troops lagged behind the Russian vanguard. The steppe archers moved across the battlespace in a criss-cross, oblique fashion, letting loose the first barrages of missile fire from the powerful composite bow. Mongol arrows, fired with great accuracy, disrupted the Russian line.[36] As Mstislav's forces reeled in the saddle, the Mongol heavy cavalry, slammed into their line with their formidable weapons, armor, and equipment.

Mongol heavy cavalrymen wore an iron helmet, a raw silk shirt upon which was placed a coat of mail and cuirass, the Mongol heavy cavalryman was armed with two bows, battle-ax, dagger, a lance of twelve feet, and a lasso. Through the use of the lance, the heavy cavalry was able to overwhelm the Russian vanguard which was never able to link up with its main body of men. At the battle's end, Mstislav the Daring was captured, but steppe custom dictated that the blood of a prince, even an enemy one, could not be shed.[37] Mstislav and two other captured princes thus suffered the fate reserved for royalty.

Stretched out under boards, the captives were slowly-suffocated as the Mongols sat or stood upon the boards during a celebratory banquet. Once again, the Mongol triumph occurred on the backs of its cavalry, one of the most formidable land warfare machines ever to ride out of the Asian steppe.[38]

The Battle of the Kalka River illustrates some of the Mongols battle tactics, but not all. In battle, it was not unusual for the Mongols to deploy an initial advance of light cavalry in the vanguard and on the wings and flanks. Two ranks of heavy cavalry rode behind the vanguard. To the rear of the heavy cavalry, three ranks of light cavalry were positioned. The vanguard's job was to pin the enemy. The main group of light cavalry then rode through the ranks of heavy cavalry without charging the enemy. At the Battle of the Kalka River, these troops rode before the enemy's front, using the arrows from composite bows in an effort to break up their position. This was not the main attack, but more in the form of what one might call the tactics of a mounted skirmisher. The light cavalry would then move to the flanks, accompanied by the sound of a martial, percussive instrument, the naccarra, the signal for the main, frontal attack by the heavy cavalry. Another tactic, the mangudai, the feint utilized at the Kalka River, was designed to induce the enemy cavalry to pursue the Mongols. The mangudai could involve tens of thousands of men, a formation called a tumen. In this maneuver, the retreating Mongols rode to pre-arranged location, their enemies following them in close, hot pursuit. At this special location, Mongol archers were hidden to joint the attack. Once the enemy was in position (and much exhausted from a long, hard ride!), the archers, followed by heavy cavalry, attacked their pursuers. Mongol tactics were not a secret in the thirteenth century, but they frequently worked well anyway.[39] 

Similarly, the Mongols were skilled in spycraft and intelligence-gathering, both critical aspects of Mongol politics and warfighting. Prudent, stealthy, and with an eye toward future conquests, Chinggis Khan recruited many spies through gold bribes, in order to obtain vital intelligence on the political and military situation of his enemies, including the polities of Europe.[40] Two of Chinggis' greatest generals, Subedei and Jebe, were able to negotiate a secret alliance with the Venetians in precisely this way. The Venetians, who had a number of trading stations in the Sea of Azov, willingly took Mongol gold in exchange for information about European geography and politics. Subedei and Jebe also agreed to grant the Venetians a trading monopoly with the Mongols, though it is likely that the Christian West had little understanding of how much danger the Mongols posed for Europe at this time. In the thirteenth century, Christian Europe perceived its greatest enemy to be Islam.[41] Subedei and Prince Batu's gold might have seemed less tempting to the Europeans, had the latter been aware of the Mongol threat, and the violence the horse nomads regularly-perpetrated upon their neighbors in the East.[42]

Intelligence-gathering on the steppe may have been an outgrowth of techniques first employed by Mongol hunting parties, the techniques of scouts and scouting. In a scouting operation during hunting, more and more men would gradually be dispatched "to encircle a smaller and smaller area, taking care not to allow any hunted animals to break through the ring, until it was time for the final slaughter."[43] The use of the spy in international relations and military operations, therefore, may represent the outgrowth of activities that were common in traditional Mongol society.

Chinggis Khan (ca. 1162-1227)

The Mongol polity was the fruit of many tribes becoming one complex, political system: a nation. And the vision that informed this powerful display of national energy belonged principally to one man, Temujin, better known to the world as Chinggis Khan. Temujin was the "supreme khan of nomadic peoples north of China." Amongst his own people, his title was simply Chinggis Khan.[44] Marco Polo explained to his European readers that the "title of Khan…is equivalent to emperor in our language."[45] Peter Lorge,[46] in his work, War, Politics and Society in Early Modern China: 900-1795, acknowledges the Khan's role in the unification of the Mongols in 1206. However, he is unflattering in his assessment of the great khan, describing him as neither a "particularly brilliant general or accomplished warrior, nor was he physically very brave." For Lorge, Chinggis is, quintessentially, a politician. For Lorge, Chinggis' only real contribution to the war-fighting tactics of the Mongol steppe forces "was to spread a decimal system [47] throughout his entire forces." In the final analysis, this innovation would have little effect on his subsequent political and military success.[48] Post-1206, the Mongols struck out in a number of directions, east and west, but the principal goal of conquest was to be found in the south: the vast continent of China.

The Mongols in China--The Rise of the Yuan Dynasty

Historically, the horse nomads, the Xiongnu (Huns), Turks, and Uighurs, as well as the Mongols, all posed a significant military threat to the Chinese. In fact, "the history of premodern China's foreign relations is largely a history of war, or preparation for war with the nomads."[49]

Some modern historians suspect that the antagonism between the Chinese and the steppe nomads may have been aggravated by the incompatibility of the two peoples' ecological contrasts. Differences between an agricultural culture like the Chinese and a nomadic people that husbanded domestic animal herds was one factor.

Others believe that famine and drought on the steppe caused the steppe nomads to attack the sedentary, agricultural Chinese to acquire food and other goods: grains, textiles, and metals that could only be acquired in the south.[50] In search of a conquest dynasty,[51] Chinggis Khan attacked the border state of Xi Xia in 1209. Victorious, he attacked the Jin in 1211, though he never prevailed against them. Dying in 1227, it fell to Chinggis' son, Ogodei Khan (1229-1241), to subjugate the Jin in 1234. Thereafter, Ogodei and the Mongols would campaign against Russia and Eastern Europe, while Ogodei's nephew, Mongke Khan (1251-1259) invaded Korea and China. Hulegu Khan attacked the Middle East, destroying Baghdad and the Abbasid Caliphate in 1258, displaying in the process the extremes of cruelty and wartime criminality.[52] By 1256, the Mongols under the general Jaliyar had conquered Korea. Then, in 1258, Mongke and his younger brother, Khublai initiated a new Chinese campaign against Song China. The Southern Song resisted strenuously, and not until 1279 did the Mongol campaign to the Song Chinese come to fruition.[53]

Huang K'uan Chung, writing in 2000, attests to the fierce Song resistance against the Mongols. The Song employed topography and the use of shancheng, a system of mountain fortresses, both of which were key tactical elements in the lengthy stalemate experienced by the Mongols in China.

The Koreans, too, used similar fortresses, successfully, in their protracted struggle against the Mongols, though, at length, the Mongols prevailed in both lands.[54] Initially, the Chinese used powerful city walls as a means of defense. These, later, proved insufficient to guard against the predatory raids of the nomads. To compensate, the Song constructed fortresses with accessible sources of water on the mountainsides. This innovative tactical defense worked effectively for many years in the Song's war against the Mongols.[55]

Other problems plagued the Mongol battle- plan-- problems of climate, terrain, and the elements. The wet climate and mountainous terrain of China proved difficult for the warhorses to negotiate. Weather, too, was a source of wartime friction. Central and southern China is a hot, humid environment, the extremes of which caused the Mongols to halt their campaign for a time. Finally, there was the problem of the Yangzi River. This most important body of water cuts through central and southern China. The Mongols could not hope to conquer China, unless they "and their allies... [dealt] with the Yangzi. This, in turn, required the use of a naval force.[56] The time had come for a critical military reorientation in Mongol warfighting. The campaign against the Song was a watershed moment for the Mongol polity's warriors. The steppe days when the Mongol military institution was exclusively a land force, to wit: cavalry was over. To conquer the Song, the Mongols embraced naval warfare to spread the Mongol Empire by force and by terror: the Mongol Revolution in Military Affairs had arrived. With respect to the use of cavalry and the bow in warfighting, Jeremy Black, writes of the tendency to see "horse-archers…as a medieval force, as with the defeats of European heavy cavalry…by Saladin at Hattin in 1187 and by the Mongols at Liegnitz in 1241."[57]

Yet, if we consider military capability solely in the context of the "objectives arising from strategic culture," one notes that

[T]he ends and means of steppe warfare [favored] raids, not battles. The traditional tactics of steppe warfare, such as feints, continued to be valuable, playing a major role in battles between the Safavids (Persians) and the Uzbeks in the sixteenth century. In addition, the bow remained more accurate than the musket until the nineteenth century. The slow rate of fire of the latter was also a problem. The continued vitality of cavalry helps counterclaims that Eastern European states were backward because they did not adapt the emphasis on infantry firepower in Western Europe.[58]

Cavalry, however, was less effective in China as it was on the northern steppe. In response, a new military vision that included naval concepts emerged with powerful results, a Mongol Revolution in Military Affairs took place.

Theory--Understanding the Revolution in Military Affairs in the Yuan Dynasty

Michael Roberts introduced the concept of a revolution in military affairs in a lecture at the Queen's University of Belfast, "The Military Revolution, 1560-1660." There, Roberts observed "that major revolutions in military techniques have usually been attended with widely ramifying consequences."[59] Roberts was speaking in a European context, but his concepts and writing, below, are applicable in the study of the Mongol warfighter.

The coming of the mounted warrior, and of the sword, in the middle of the second millennium BC; the triumph of the heavy cavalryman, consolidated by the adoption of the stirrup, in the sixth century of the Christian era…are all recognized as major turning-points in the history of mankind.[60]

Roberts' understanding of the R.M.A begins with European history, in Sweden in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Nevertheless, we can relate his European notions to the Asian transformation of a cavalry force to be joined by seapower.

All R.M.A.s are similar, in that, they seek to find solutions to pre-existing military problems. For Roberts, the RMA, in Europe was:

[T]he result of just one more attempt to solve the perennial problem of tactics—the problem of how to combine missile weapons with close action; how to unite hitting power, mobility, and defensive strength. And the solution offered by the reforms of Maurice of Orange and Gustav Adolf was a return…to linear formations.[61]

The Mongol problem was different. It required the Mongols to find a way to compensate for the loss of cavalry in the terrain and climate of Song China. It also required that the Mongols address the problems of riverine warfare. This, the Mongols did by co-opting the contributions of their subjugated neighbors, particularly, the Chinese and the Koreans. From these cultures, the horse nomads learned the arts and sciences of naval architecture, the use of the warship as a weapons system, the deployment of naval warfighters, for example, sailors, ship-borne archers, a form of naval infantry and marines, and, also, architectural innovations aboard fighting vessels: raised sterncastles to serve as a weapons platform in combat for archers. None of this existed on the steppe, and had they not invaded China, it is unlikely that the Mongols would have considered their use

Michael Howard, in a 1961 lecture, stated that the historian "should be conscious of the uniqueness of every historical event."[62] To properly grasp his subject matter, the historian must study in three historical dimensions: width, depth, and context. Width references the manner in which warfare develops over time. By properly understanding such changes, one can know whether the tactics and strategies of yesterday will work on a modern battlefield.

Depth refers to research and study to generate the relevant insights. One can never know a war, a battle, or campaign too well. No source is unimportant: letters, memoirs, biographies, battle plans, archival research, and after-action reports, can all help the historian studying any given campaign. Finally, there is context. For Howard: "Wars are not tactical exercises writ large. They are...conflicts of societies, and they can be…understood only if one understands the nature of the society fighting them."[63] Here, one encounters the linkage between military and non-military factors, the social, political and social, economic factors to explain the movement of armies, and the evolution of nations. Howard believes that the historian needs such knowledge, lest one "reach totally erroneous conclusions about…[the] nature, and the reasons for…failure and success."[64]

Accordingly, to understand the Mongol entry into China and other places, without reference to the difficulties of living on the steppe, is to lose vital information in the development of the horse nomads' culture and their subsequent imperial dynasties, worldwide. The harshness of the terrain, the rise of cavalry, the specific weapons mastered by the Mongol, the unification of the tribes, all represent the width of the Mongol experience. The context of the Mongol experience, the desire for imperial growth, driven, perhaps, by both a need and a greed for goods not obtainable on the steppe is a crucial task for understanding. Context, too, would include the personality of Temujin, a master politician and steppe visionary. Jeremy Black writing in 1994,[65] states that the theory of a revolution in military affairs, propounded by Roberts "was useful in offering a conceptual framework within which early modern warfare could be discussed."[66] It related issues of tactics and training with the "wider implications for issues of governmental and political development."[67]

However, Black has some reservations about the Roberts Thesis, so-called, on methodological and empirical grounds. For Black, Roberts' Thesis ignores the fact that change --- the simplest definition of a Revolution in Military Affairs, was a constant in the medieval military-political structures of Europe. Black writes: "A military revolution is only conceivable against preceding stasis or limited change."[68] Black also believes that there has not been enough of an attempt to relate the chronology of military change with the general political chronology. In terms of the Mongol polity, the military revolution in military affairs cannot be separated from the general geo-strategic goals of the Mongols' China invasion. Translation: It was politics that ultimately forced the Mongols to become sailors and pilot warships. Speaking in a European context, Black says something interesting in this regard:

Navies provide some of the best indicators of change in the period 1660-1720. The development of line-ahead tactics greatly altered naval warfare, not only tactically, but also by increasing the importance of heavily gunned ships of the line, and thus of the states able to deploy and maintain substantial numbers of such ships. In 1639, at the Battle of the Downs, the attack in line-ahead was first executed in European waters and the Dutch won a major victory over Spain.[69]

There are other criticisms of Roberts' Thesis. Clifford J. Rogers in his essay, "The Military History of the Hundred Years War,"[70] questions the time frame of Roberts' ideas on the R.M.A. For Rogers, two previous instances in the Hundred Years' War demonstrate how "new developments revolutionized the conduct of war in Europe, in each case with consequences as significant for the history of the world as those which took place during…1500-1800."[71] One of these "revolutions" concerned changes in infantry; the other, artillery. In the first decades of the fourteenth century, "we can observer the first glimmerings of the revolution which was to overtake European warfare a generation later."[72]

Specifically, in three famous clashes, Courtrai (1302); Bannockburn (1314); Morgarten (1315), "infantry armed with poles triumphed over feudal cavalry."[73] At Courtrai, terrain was a key factor. The French cavalry faced off against the Flemish infantry, but the swampy ground prevented the French from forming a proper line. Similarly, in Song China, the difficulties of terrain and weather, and, ultimately, the rivers, inhibited the use of the Mongol ponies. At Courtrai, swamp land prevented the French horses from a breakout through "the serried ranks of the Flemish pikemen, [and] they were equally unable to retreat, and were slaughtered." The Scots at Bannockburn encountered the English under similar conditions, and battle concluded with a Scottish victory, not unlike that of the Flemish victory at Courtrai.

Rogers's questioning of the time frame of the so-called Roberts Thesis, and Black's examination of cultures outside the Eurocentric point of view, allow the military historian to examine the possibility of similar revolutions in military affairs' in cultures, lands, and centuries, outside of Roberts' theory. The Mongol invasion of Song China and the rise of a naval force would certainly seem to constitute such a revolution outside the Eurocentric worldview in the thirteenth century East.

Sailors of the Yuan--The Mongols at Sea

What can one learn from the Mongols? Clearly, there are many lessons that can be gleaned from the Mongol polity. One lesson, however, has great relevance for all cultures and all warfighters: the utility of a flexible mind-set in the confrontation with new cultures, and a capacity for adaptation in problems requiring novel military solutions.

One of the great Mongol traits was the capacity to meet new military conditions with open-mindedness, as well as an ability to integrate innovative technology.

Initially, the Mongols knew nothing of naval warfare, but they learned seamanship and amphibious operations from Chinese defectors who were willing to betray their country. Mongke's forces made a definite impression upon these Song who threw in with the invaders when they concluded that the Mongols could not be defeated in China.[75] This was good fortune for Mongke Khan, who upon entering China, encountered what would prove to be a critical element in the subsequent Mongol military development: the Yangzi River. To the Mongols, it was clear that the traditional steppe armamentarium would not allow for a military solution to the problems of riverine warfare. The solution, then, was to adapt, or go no further, or return to the steppe! The solution, however, lay in the Mongols' willingness to learn and utilize naval technology, in order to mount a riverine attack upon the Song by way of the Yangzi. With the assistance of Chinese shipwrights, the Mongols' attempts at change were successful, and a powerful, nautical revolution in military affairs unfolded within the fledgling Yuan Dynasty in China.

Mongke's plan called for Chinggis' grandson, Khublai, to maneuver through Hubei; other elements of the Mongol force were sent to move in the area along the east coast of China. In the midst of the campaign, Mongke died unexpectedly in 1259, and the Mongols ceased military operations to convene a grand tribal council, a khuriltai, to determine the next khan. Khublai[76] was elected khan in 1260. One of his first undertakings was to attempt to negotiate with the Song through diplomacy. The Song, however, rebuffed his overtures, and the Khan re-initiated hostilities.

Under his great general Bayan, Khublai unleashed a riverine attack upon the defended city of Xiangyang on the Han River. Once more, the Song defended their homeland with vigorous skill. The Mongols prevailed, ultimately, but it would take five more years of hard combat to do so. By 1273, the Mongols emerged victorious on the Han River. They were now a naval force of consequence in China, a crucial factor in their final campaign against the Song some years later.[77]

Song and Yuan Naval Construction

The military leaders of the Yuan drew upon the assistance of Chinese and Korean shipwrights and naval architects, defectors who possessed an extensive knowledge of naval affairs. Chinese naval theorists were innovative in the use of technology in their fleets. Artillery and fire weapons were both used aboard Chinese vessels, and according to Lorge, "naval operations were involved in creating Chinese empires from the very beginning to the very end."[78] For historians of the Yuan, Khublai Khan, more than anyone, created the Mongol navy. In 1270, Khublai ordered the construction of five thousand ships. Three years later, an additional two thousand ships were ordered to be built; these would carry about 50,000 troops to give battle to the Song. In 1273, when the Mongols attacked the city of Xiangyang, several thousand ships were deployed. The Song fleet, despite their deployment as a coastal defense fleet or Coast Guard more than an operational Navy, was more than a match for the Mongols. Yet, the Song Navy of the thirteenth century possessed a good deal of the state of the art technology available at the time. As early as 1129, Song vessels incorporated weapons such as trebuchets that could hurl gunpowder bombs. Between 1132 and 1189, the Song Navy deployed paddle-wheeled warships, and by 1203, their navy was utilizing armor on its warships.

Adept at Greek Fire, the Song also utilized piston engine flamethrowers to burn enemy vessels.[79] Contemporary maritime archaeology has revealed that Song shipwrights were quite sophisticated in their ship-building skills.[80] When Chinese archaeologists excavated the remnants of a Quanzhou ship in 1974, they discovered the remains of a Song hull buried within 2-3 meters of mud. There, researchers also found 504 gold coins minted during the Song dynasty. 1272 is the date of the latest coin in the batch, and this suggests that the vessel sank sometime after that year. The ship's length is 34.6 meters. The breadth or beam is 9.82 meters. Capable of displacing 374.4 tons, the ship is unlike anything the archaeologists had expected to find in a Chinese vessel. The ship had a double-planked hull that at the turn of the bilge became triple-planked. When constructed, the ship was built shell-first in the same manner as Mediterranean vessels.

When the ship was removed from the mud, archaeologists were surprised to find that the ship was fitted with a keel, constructed of three pieces of timber. Prior to this discovery, scholars didn't think that ships of this period had such a component. The rudder fit into the stern, suspended as it angled down onto a transom, but it did not connect to a sternpost. The tabernacles or mounts for the masts were located in the interior of the hull. These were the locations for two masts, though study of the vessel indicates that there was probably a third mast at the stern. Clearly, Song naval architecture was in advance of European vessels of the period.

Transom sterns, axial rudders, multiple masts, and the carrying capacity of Song ships appeared two hundred years before Europe adopted them in the fifteenth century.[81] Another innovation of the Song ship-building artisans was the use of watertight compartments below deck.

If the hull was damaged in combat or by mishap, the compartment could be sealed, increasing the ship's chances of remaining afloat. In the West, conversely, European ship-builders did not use watertight bulkheads until the nineteenth century.[82] Ben Armstrong, a U.S. Navy officer and military historian, believes that the development of the watertight bulkhead represents one of the most important innovations of the Song naval architects.

"The transom sterns, variable depth rudders…and the use of tabernacles rather than keel-mounted masts, were all important but were dictated by the fact that Song vessels for the most part operated in the littorals (or shallow coastal waters) and rivers. The use of watertight compartments, however, was not an adaptation to environment. Instead, it was combat engineering and therefore it was something that the Europeans should have developed but did not. That's why…[this]…is the most important of all the Song innovations: it [demonstrates] their superior designs…They were the also the first navy to use compasses for navigation[.] [83]

Certain Song warships, called sea hawks, were invented in the Tang Dynasty, and they utilized an interesting feature: Chinese shipwrights added four to six floating boards on each side, in order to stabilize the vessel at sea. Song vessels also made use of an iron-reinforced hull, and some had multiple decks to promote greater stabilization at sea. Warships of this period also employed fire-bomb catapults and incendiary arrows that made use of gunpowder. Thus, the military skills of the Song were considerable, so, too, were their weapons technology and understanding of war. In this way, the Song insured their survival for many years against powerful enemies like the Jin and the Mongols.[84] Post-1172, more than a century before the final showdown between Mongol and Song, the Song emperor, alarmed by the invasion of the Jurchen Jin, determined that a strong navy was essential to the survival of the state.[85] This insight turned out to be correct, and Song naval superiority insured that the Jin failed in their war against the Song Dynasty.

The Mongols, however, were another matter. They had learned well from their Chinese and Korean allies. Naval forces and operations were the obvious key to the undoing of the Song, and they resolved not to repeat the error of the Jin. Their plan called for victory. On 19 March 1279, the Mongol plan came to its bloody conclusion at the Battle of Yaishan.

The Battle of Yaishan—19 March 1279

The conclusion of the Song---Mongol war occurred on 19 March 1279, when 1000 Song warships faced a fleet of 300 to 700 Yuan[86] Mongol warships. The Mongol fleet was commanded by Zhang Hongfan (1238-1280), a northern Chinese, and Li Heng (1236-1285), a Tangut. Catapults as a weapon system were rejected by the Mongols, for the Mongols feared the Song fleet would break out if they used such weapons. Instead, the Mongol plan called for a maritime siege, in order to starve the Song into submission.

But at the outset, there was a defect in the Song tactics that would later be exploited by Yuan at the conclusion of the battle. The Song wanted a stronger defensive position, and the Song fleet "roped itself together in a solid mass[,]" in an attempt to create what appears to be in a nautical skirmish line. Results were disastrous: the Chinese could neither attack nor maneuver. Escape was also impossible, for the Song warships lacked any nearby base to which they might take refuge.[87] The course, then, was clear: the Song must stand and fight! Not all the Chinese did, though. On 12 March, a number of Song combatants defected to the Mongol side. On 13 March, a Song squadron attacked some of the Mongols' northern patrol boats. Lorge thinks this action was an attempted breakout, but if so, it failed. The Chinese squadron was crushed with an appalling loss of life.[88]

By 17 March, Li Heng and Zhang Hongfan opted for a decisive battle.[89] Four Mongol fleets moved against the Song: Li Heng attacked from the north and northwest; Zhang would proceed from the southwest; the last two fleets attacked from the south and west.[90] Weather favored the Mongols that morning. Heavy fog and rain obscured the approach of Li Heng's dawn attack. The movement of the tide and the southwestern similarly-benefited the movement of the Mongol fleet which, in short order, appeared to the north of the Song. It was an unusual attack, in that, the Mongol fleet engaged the Song fleet stern first.

In hindsight, this was a very good tactic. It enabled the naval infantry archers to take full advantage of the ships' high sterncastles. Prior to the battle, the Mongols constructed archery platforms for their sea soldiers. As a result of this simple innovation, the archers atop the sterncastles were transformed into force multipliers against the Song. The position enabled the archers to direct a higher, more concentrated rate of missile fire against the enemy. Fire teams of seven or eight archers manned these platforms, and they proved devastatingly-effective as the battle commenced at close quarter.

Li Heng's first attack cut the Song rope that held the Chinese fleet together. Fighting raged with great intensity at a hand-to hand distance. The Song gave fierce resistance, but by eleven, they had lost three of their ships to the Mongols, though the outcome was still by no means certain. Then, by the forenoon, Li's ships broke through the Song's outer line, and two other Mongol squadrons destroyed the Song formation in the corner of the northwest. Around this time, the tide had shifted; Li's ships drifted to the opposite direction, the north.[91]

The Song believed that the Mongols were halting the attack and, foolishly, dropped their guard. Their mistake was obvious when, suddenly, Zhang Hongfan's fleet, riding the northern current, slammed into the Chinese ships. Zhang was determined to capture the Song admiral, Zuo Tai. The Mongol flagship was protected by shields to negate the Song missile fire. Later, when Zhang did capture the Song flagship, his own vessel was riddled with arrows. Then, as if the Song did not have enough difficulties, Li Heng's fleet returned to the battle. By late afternoon, it was obvious to all observers that the battle was over. The Mongols had prevailed, and the Song navy surrendered.

Horrified, the ruling elite, unwilling to submit to the Mongol yoke, opted for death by suicide. The Song councilor, an important post, in that, he was tasked with literally holding the infant child-emperor of the Song in his arms during the battle, also elected to join the Song leaders in death. Not only did he plan his own death, he, or perhaps others, decided to take the infant Emperor to his royal destruction, too. As harsh a decision as this sounds, it is not without its own cruel logic. Presumably, the councilor did not wish to see a mere baby trampled to death in Mongol tradition, as undoubtedly the Yuan would have done to the child-emperor, to leave no doubt that the Song Dynasty was literally dead. Tragically, the councilor jumped into the sea, still holding the child in his arms. Both would die; the Song Dynasty would die with them.; Lorge described the scene and its aftermath:

Tens of thousands of Song officials, and women threw themselves into the sea and drowned. The last Song emperor went to the bottom with his entourage, held in the arms of his councilor. With his death, the final remnants of the Song dynasty were eliminated. Khublai's Mongol Yuan dynasty completed the conquest of China with naval campaign and a climactic battle at sea more than 2,000 miles south of the Mongolian homeland.[92]

Korea and Japan

At the same time, Khublai was in contention with the Song, he attacked Koryo (Korea), and the campaign, there, took place over a period of years. Time and again, the Koreans, as the Song did for many years, successfully defended their land, and fought-off the Mongols. However, the Mongols' assaults were relentless, and, eventually, the Koreans capitulated. With the surrender of King Kojong, he and Koryo became the vassals of Khublai Khan. After this humiliating development, the Khan gave one of his daughters in marriage to the King of Koryo, Chung-ryol, which effectively united the two states through the diplomacy of marriage. This, however, was a mixed blessing, for as a vassal and as a member of the great Khan's family, Kojong was obligated to assist the Khublai Khan in his next great imperial adventure: the invasion of Japan.

How, why, and under what circumstances, the Mongol leader decided to invade Japan may never be completely understood. One story, perhaps apocryphal, has it that Khublai decided to invade Japan, after a Koryo courtesan convinced him that Japan could be easily subdued. Another interpretation holds that the Khan hoped to utilize Japan as an ally in his struggle against the Song in China, which at this time was still in progress.[93] The Khan also may have had concerns that the Japanese would join forces with the Song. Another possibility was that Japan posed an economic threat to Mongol China, which may have moved the Khan to attack Japan to maintain stability in the region to his Empire's advantage.[94] Strategically, the Mongols would have readily grasped that in conquering Japan, the Yuan could come to dominate all of Asia. They would then have access to the Pacific Ocean for both trade and the natural resources available in that direction.[95]

Whatever the truth of the matter, if Khublai attacked Japan, the Koreans would be obligated to participate in the invasion.[96] And when the Yuan emissaries were rebuffed by the Japanese, the Khan resolved to punish them, aided by his Korean and Chinese allies. The invasion of Japan required the King of Koryo provide ships, sailors, soldiers, and provisions for the campaign. Thousands of carpenters were tasked with the construction of 300 large ships, and in October 1274, the armada was ready. A Korean army of 5,000 men, under the command of Kim Bang-Gyong, joined a Mongol army of 20,000, under the command of Hol Don. On 3 October 1274, the Allies left Masan in a fleet of 900 ships, manned by 6,700 Koryo sailors. 35,000 Chinese, Mongol, and Korean soldiers crowded onto the vessels in preparation for the war against Japan. On 5 October, the Koryo army attacked Tsushima, occupied the island, while the Mongols occupied Iki Island. By 14 October, they occupied Hirado and moved to Hakata Bay. Here, the steppe warrior of the Yuan Dynasty met the poet-warriors of Japan, the samurai.

The samurai and the Yuan Mongols were very different in their understanding of themselves and of the nature of war. The Mongol was a horse-nomad, turned imperialist-conqueror, and more recently a sailor and naval infantryman. The samurai, conversely, understood the martial world differently.

[The samurai] were a warrior people…They were warriors…of a recognizably 'primitive' sort, practicing a highly-ritualized style of combat and valuing skill-at-arms largely as a medium for defining social status and subordinating the unsworded to the rule of the samurai.[97]

In the ensuing fighting, as much a clash of culture as combatants, the Japanese losses were considerable, and they were forced to retreat inland to defend Dazaifu. Tactically, the two forces approached combat in very different ways.

The Koreans and Mongols fought as disciplined units. The Japanese, on the other hand, fought for the glory of individual combat in the Japanese tradition of personal heroism. The samurai had not fought anyone outside Japan before, and the differences between the Mongols using organized, group-combat concepts in their tactics, together with the high-tech weapons they acquired in China, were noticeable within the battlespace of Japan.. The samurai fought with sword, armor, and horse.[98] In combat, the Japanese advanced individually in battle, yelling their names and pedigrees, in order to engage the Mongols individually. As the knightly class of feudal Japan, the only warriors in Japan who could wear two swords, the samurai were practitioners of something other than war: they were practitioners of style. [99]

Everything about the samurai was designed to make an impression: style of clothing, weapons, martial skill, and battlefield deportment. They were similar to the chivalric knights of Europe in this regard. Yet, unlike the armed and mounted aristocracy of Europe, the samurai were highly-literate, and according to Keegan, "the samurai…commonly wished to be known both as swordsmen and poets."[100]

Thomas Cleary[101] in his discussion of the Japanese warrior class writes that to understand the rise of the samurai class, one must look at the two words which designate its members: samurai and bushi. Samurai comes from a Japanese verb, saburau, which translates "'to serve as an attendant.'" The word, bushi, on the other hand, is of Sino-Japanese origin; it translates as "'armed gentry.'" In Japan, classes other than the warrior class referred to these men as samurai. The samurai, themselves, used the term, bushi. [102] The samurai served the nobles of Japan as attendants.

The nobles tended to be absentee landlords, and the samurai attended to their estates, policing, defense and civil administration. As time went on, they made a political move to seize some of the wealth and power from the absentee landlord-nobles. From this situation, power would come to be shared by various factions, the Emperor, the Shoguns, and the samurai between. As a result of the clash between samurai and the nobles, there arose in Japan a new kind of Japanese polity, a military para-government of the dominant samurai, the so-called Shoguns. The polity the Shogun presided over was the Bakufu, the Tent Government.

By the time the Mongols were on the beaches of Japan, the first Bakufu or Tent Government was in power. According to Cleary, the warriors of this government were "descendants of noble houses, many of whom had honed their martial skills for generations in warfare against the Ainu people in eastern Japan."[103] The Tent Government of this period was seated near modern Tokyo, in the small town of Kamakura, hence, the name given to the period, the Kamakura Era.[104]

Cleary writes that Japanese history and culture is not comprehensible unless one realizes that until the Meiji Restoration of 1868, no government ruled unilaterally. The Shoguns enjoyed power, but it was not absolute, even within its own polity. Similarly, the imperial house was dominated by the emperor, the nominal ruler of all Japan, theoretically, but not in reality. The realpolitik of Japanese government meant that the imperial house was one of a number of powerful factions in Japan. All ritual and rhetoric to the contrary, the emperor could not, in actuality, project power throughout the whole of his supposed realm.[105]

This was the state of affairs in Japanese politics when the Mongols and their allies stormed the islands of Japan. It was to these invaders that the Japanese bushi yelled their names and pedigrees, seeking to engage the Mongol, man-to-man, and hand-to-hand. The Mongols, however, had other ideas. In all likelihood, most of the attacking Yuan force would have understood neither the Japanese language, nor the significance of the ritualized Japanese approach to battle. And if they had, it is doubtful that they would have been interested. The Mongol response had none of the drama of the Japanese bushi; it was, rather, pragmatic and unceremonious: they showered the samurai with a hail of arrows and exploding bombs. The intent was to move forward en masse, in juggernaut fashion destroying the Japanese where they found them.

The Mongols came equipped with all the technology that the Song Dynasty had bequeathed to them. The Mongol bows had a longer range than the Japanese weapons, and the frightful explosive weapons of the Song were hurled from trebuchets at the bushi. The battle's fury forced the Japanese to retreat to Dazaifu. In the process, the Mongols destroyed the countryside and burned down a shrine at Hakozaki.[106] In their usual style, the Mongols didn't hesitate to murder the civilian population, and non-combatant losses were high. Then, on 21 October, the Mongol forces returned to the ships for rest and resupply, when a sudden storm arose and halted the Mongol fleet which returned to Masan.[107] In the hiatus, the Khan once more attempted diplomacy. They sent a Korean emissary to the Japanese Hojo Bakufu in 1275, to deliver terms. This envoy, Sub Chan, went to the Japanese with a letter from Khublai. The Japanese responded by murdering Chan on the spot and sending back his severed head. Appalled by the insult, the Khan ordered another invasion of the Japanese islands.

However, before the attack came, the Japanese rebuilt the shrine at Hakozaki and began offering services for divine intervention. Knowing that the Mongols would attack soon with horses and carts as soon as practical, the Japanese built a wall to impede the coming invasion. The Shogun had decided that a cavalry defense was most appropriate, and he began training his troops for that style of combat. The Japanese also built a number of small, maneuverable ships to damage the larger transports of the Mongols.

Still, the Mongols had superior equipment. By the time the Mongols attacked Japan for the second time, they were even better armed and equipped than they were in their first invasion of Japan. Cross-bows, slings, gun powder, and artillery could all be found in the Mongol armamentarium. However, the amphibious nature of the operation meant that the Mongols could not deploy their famed cavalry until they were on land. The Japanese, as before, were armed with bows, and their tactics were traditional Samurai tactics, based upon heroic, individual combat. Such tactics were valuable at close range, but were of little use against Chinese-crafted artillery.[108]

On 3 May 1281, the new armada set out for Japan. Kyushu was targeted, but the Japanese were ready for the enemy and were able to repel the Mongol forces. However, the Mongols once again took Tsushima and occupied it. Attacking Hakata on 6 June, the Mongols and their allies[109] were pushed back to Shiganoshima. Several days, thereafter, the Mongols were thrown out of Shiganoshima by the Japanese. They returned to Iki and then to Hirado. However, a second Mongol army was proceeding from a southern route, and they finally arrived in a huge fleet of 3500 Chinese ships in mid-July. In the Mongol attack, the Japanese were initially repulsed, but the samurai rallied and drove the Mongols back to Hakata Bay.

The Japanese then began small-unit, guerrilla actions against the crews and troops aboard the ships at anchor. These assaults, more in the nature of terrorism, perhaps, were highly-effective against Mongol morale, and they caused the allies to withdraw to the island of Iki. However, a second fleet was expected to invade Hakata Bay. Once again, the Japanese prayed for divine intervention. The timing of the attacks coincided with typhoon season, but the Mongols, aware of the treachery of the weather around the Japanese islands, were little concerned. They did not anticipate a long campaign, and paid little attention to the weather. As before, the Mongols attacked again, and once more the Japanese resisted fiercely. The strength of the Japanese defense was so intense, it managed to delay the Mongols for a period of six weeks.

On 29 July, a powerful storm arose. Panicking, the Mongol generals sailed to the safety of Masan, leaving the invasion fleet at half-strength. Then, an epidemic broke out amongst the Mongols, killing thousands of allies. On 1 August, another storm erupted; the surviving ships were forced to abandon a token army of 20,000 soldiers that had been left behind. The storm was of such destructive force that 4,000 Mongol ships were lost, and a staggering number of troops were lost. As for the Yuan combatants left behind, he Japanese turned fiercely on these outnumbered troops and killed all but 10,000 troops. For the Japanese, the powerful storm was seen as a kamikaze, a divine wind, a heavenly intervention in their struggle against Khublai Khan. The Mongol view of this theory is unknown, although it is known that the Mongols, fearing Khublai's wrath, fled to Koryo to hide from the Khan, rather than return to China.

Modern underwater archaeological expeditions conducted in the waters of Imari Bay, in Japan, have yielded interesting artifacts of the Mongol invasion of Japan. Archaeologist, James P. Delgado[110] found an intact Mongol helmet, iron arrow tips, a tetsuhau, or bomb that in the thirteenth century was filled with black powder. Scholars were unaware that such weapons were available at this point in military history, but Delgado's research confirmed that they were available to the Mongols. Remnants of a large Mongol warship and an anchor also were uncovered, and the forensic, archaeological examination of the anchor's materials revealed their source of origin was Fujian Province in China, a marshaling point for the 1281 invasion fleet.

One especially interesting find was the personal seal of a Mongol commander, written in Chinese and Phags-pa, a specially-constructed Mongolian language. It was found by local fishermen in1980, in the waters of Takashima in a dive conducted by Tokyo engineering professor, Torao Monzai. Various weapons were also recovered from the waters around the invasion site: crossbow bolts, swords, and ceramic bombs filled with gunpowder. Poignantly, the underwater examination of the battle site revealed human remains, the hard reminder of the true nature of armed, human conflict. The remains include a human cranium and a pelvis, possibly from the same individual.[111] These remains and artifacts support what is known about the nationalities of the invasion force. According to Delgado: "Initial study of the artifacts has revealed…[that] one percent of the finds can be attributed to a Mongolian origin; the rest are Chinese. The Mongol invasion was Mongol only in name and in the allegiance of the invading sailors and troops."[112]

In Japan, the end of the war did not bring peace. True enough, Hojo Kamakura Bakufu, or Tent Government was victorious, but due to the subsequent money problems caused by the war, many Japanese turned upon them in resentment. Ordinarily, the bushi would be rewarded with rights to land. But that only applied if the enemy was in a foreign country. Since the war was fought at home, no land was to be forthcoming, a turn of events that caused great anger amongst the victorious Japanese. The result was that the Kamakura Shogunate came to an end. In China, the Khan intended to invade a third time, but his death put a halt to any such operation.[113] By the late fourteenth century, in the 1360s, it was the Yuan Dynasty's turn to die. And before long, the entire Mongol polity that had done so much in such a short time would be unable to sustain itself, and an extraordinary period of wars, international developments, and relationships would slowly play itself out on the world stage.


What lessons might one learn from the story of the Mongol? What can the military historian, the warfighter, the student of political science and international relations, learn from a study of the horse nomad battling his way out of the steppe and ascending to the heights of empire in Asia and Eastern Europe, by courage, cunning, and the sword?

In part, the story of the Mongol demonstrates the powerful relationship between the great men of history and the people they govern. Chinggis Khan, arguably the greatest leader to emerge from the steppes, through his unique political gifts, realized his dreams of Empire, and bequeathed a new world to his children and grandchildren.

Yet, there is no guarantee that the blood line of the great men of history will produce equally great men. In the case of Chinggis and the Mongols, it was within forty years of the coming of the Yuan Dynasty that the Chinggisid dreams of Empire would fade into nightmares. Chinggis' most famous grandson, Khublai Khan, the creator of the Mongol Navy, amongst other things, "balanced his rule of China as a Chinese emperor against the image as a Mongolian khan."[114] The present authors view Khublai as a key figure in the Mongol story. He is clearly a transitional figure, the gateway, as it were from the steppe and the warhorse to the sedentary throne and the warship.

The rise of seapower in the Yuan under Mongke and Khublai demonstrates that a Revolution in Military Affairs took place in China, largely because the Mongols were possessed of those necessary traits and qualities that allowed them to adapt to new conditions. Remaining true to their imperial dreams, the Mongols realized that hundreds of years of fighting and living in the old, horse-borne ways of the steppe would no longer suffice in the new land of the Yuan. Change was essential, and the Mongols were successful in their transformation, as evidenced by the naval R.M.A., that thoroughly transformed the Mongol military. Political leaders, military officers, and military historians would do well to consider how drastic the R.M.A. must have appeared to the Mongol, himself, in the days of the Yuan. A more comprehensive military system emerged, and the Mongols realized their dreams of empire in China.

If there was a weakness in the Yuan system, it was its failure to guarantee the imperial succession. There remained the unanswered question, too, whether the new ruler of the Yuan to follow Khublai was the Mongol Khaghan or the Yuan Emperor.

When Khublai died in 1294, he would be followed by a total of nine Yuan emperors spanning a period of less than forty years. In the period of time that Khublai occupied the throne, he had brought a degree of order to the administration of China. His successors could not make such a claim, nor could they match Khublai's warrior skills.[115] Yet if Khublai could bring order, even peace to China and the Yuan experience, he also ran counter to the legacy of Chinggis Khan.

According to Lorge, "Chinggis created the Mongol polity and found that it needed a goal. That goal was world conquest, and both Mongke and Khublai had perpetuated a nearly continual state of war to realize these old steppe dreams of fire, iron, and blood."[116] However, in the years following Khublai's death, the inherent tension in the Yuan dynasty, a bureaucracy in the Chinese imperial style and the feudal system of the steppe Mongols could not be resolved. The last Yuan emperor, Toghon Temur, who took the throne at age of thirteen, was not prepared for rule. Equally, the Mongol Army was not nearly as successful as an occupying force as it was in the role of an invading army.

In the mid-fourteenth century numerous rebellions erupted in China. But there was no other source of repressing the rebels other than the government that could no longer do so.[117] Reflecting on the eclipse of the Mongol polity, Lorge writes what might well be the epitaph of the Yuan Dynasty:

Like the Song, Kitan, Jurchen, and Southern Song regimes, poor decisions by the emperor or his court undermined the dynasty at a critical time and brought it to ruin. The Yuan dynasty fell because, having centralized power in the emperor's hands, his mistakes ramified throughout the government. Thus the Yuan collapsed, not because it was Mongol ruled but because it was a Chinese dynasty.[118]

In China, the Yuan would be displaced by the Ming (1368-1644). Historically, though, the record is clear: in its time and in its place upon the northern steppe, the Mongol polity was power itself, and possessed of a unique cultural dynamism, that was simultaneously cruel and cosmopolitan in the modern sense. From the center of the Mongol soul emanated power, aggression, ingenuity, and vision, fostered by a skill in war and battle that was, perhaps, unparalleled in any age.

What else can we learn from the Mongol? We can learn the value of adaptability and flexibility that led to a powerful revolution in military affairs, the transformation of a land-based, cavalry force to a naval force of considerable power. Politically and militarily, the genius of the Mongol as his capacity to learn and borrow from the Khan's subjects and vassals, a fact that helped to transform itself from a tribal experience to a great cosmopolitan Empire.

Few polities could dare to dream such dreams, and to accomplish what the steppe-nomads of Asia did with such power and daring. Military flexibility would allow the Mongols to expand their notions of themselves as warriors, where their revered horses and bows would be joined by ships and sea soldiers. Horse-borne or ship-borne, cavalry or infantry, the name, Mongol, is a synonym for aggressive genius. As a nation and a people born to war and empire, the Mongol polity cannot and will not soon be forgotten.

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Show Footnotes and Bibliography

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Copyright © 2007 Steven C. Ippolito and John J. Trombetta

Written by John J. Trombetta and Steven C. Ippolito. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact John Trombetta at: or Steven Ippolito at:

About the authors:
Dr. John J. Trombetta is an Administrator and Speech-Language Pathologist at an educational institution in Upstate New York. He has served on the teaching faculties of the State University of New York College at Cortland and Ithaca College. Dr. Trombetta holds a Ph.D. in Communication from SUNY Buffalo, MA from Hunter College and a BA from Lehman College in New York City. In addition, he possesses a Certificate of Advanced Studies in School Supervision and Administration. Dr. Trombetta is a Commander in the U.S. Navy currently serving as a Public Affairs Officer for Navy Region Midwest - Reserve Component Command. In 2005, Commander Trombetta was ordered to Active Duty and served with the 7th U.S. Navy Fleet in the Pacific. He has been assigned to multiple commands during his career including: the U.S. European Command in Germany, NATO Headquarters in Portugal and Partnership for Peace in Ukraine. He sends his best wishes to all members of the U.S. Armed Services and U.S. Veterans.

Steven Christopher Ippolito is a law enforcement officer for the State of New York for nearly twenty years and an adjunct professor of Criminal Justice and Political Science at Monroe College, New York City. He has two Masters Degrees, one in Education; the other, recently obtained from Norwich University, VT, in the very first Military History class of 2007 at that venerable institution; follow, probably at Fordham University. He also created The James Monroe Center for History and Strategic Studies, a think tank to discuss history, warfighting, transnational crime, and political science through research and study. The father of a United States Marine, Brian Christopher, a veteran of Iraq from the beginning in 2003 to the November 2004 offensive at Fallujah, now becoming a police officer for New York City, he is also the son of Joseph Ippolito, deceased, a police officer for New York City's Mounted Police, and a veteran of the U.S. Army-Air Force's Eighth Air Force in the period, 1944-45, a tail gunner on a B-24 Liberator called the Parisian Knights. His wife, Rose, worked at the Tower II, 102nd Floor of the World Trade Center until the beginning of September, 2001, when she left work there; most of her friends didn't survive! The love of history is probably due to Steve's mother, Mary, one of the greatest history buffs ever. As a child, she encouraged his love of Civil War history, and gave him Dee Brown's, Bury My Heart on Wounded Knee, and a biography of U.S. Grant, which he has cherished ever since. Steve believes that Military History iis an excellent educational tool for our professional military, and since we are war, it is through a historical study of politics and war that one can be of help to our warfighters. A black belt in Jiu Jitsu and Tae Kwon Do, Steve, with a B.M. in music, plays the classical guitar,composes whenever possible,and plays with the pop music group, Playground. He sends best wishes to all first responders and military personnel, at home and abroad, whether they served, yesterday in Afghanistan, or a few years earlier at Bunker Hill. May God bless America!

Published online: 12/24/2007.

* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MHO.
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