Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Battles That Changed History: Bun'ei (文永の役 Bun'ei no eki or First Hakata Bay) 1274

文永の役 (Bun'ei/First Hakata Bay)

Date: 19 NOV 1274AD (Bun'ei 11, 20th day of the 10th month)
Note on dates: Traditional Japanese dates are based on a 年号, nengō, literally a "year-name" that was typically chosen by the Imperial court to celebrate important occasions such as the accession of a new emperor or some auspicious event in his reign. 文永, Bun'ei, was the name chosen for something - frankly, I have no idea what - that occurred in the reign of 亀山天皇, Kameyama-tenno, Emperor Kameyama, 90th in the traditional succession. You'll note that in the Imperial calendar the date would have been rendered as 20 OCT - the 20th day of the 10th month...but by the Western Gregorian calendar the date is 19 NOV, one month later. Before you think "that's weird" remember that the Julian calendar was nearly a month different from the Gregorian when the changeover took place in most of the Western world in the 18th Century.
Forces Engaged: Japanese - The Japanese defenders that met the Mongol invaders at the shores along Hakata Bay were drawn from the gokenin, the household troops of the various clans of the island of Kyūshū. From the paucity of sources - we'll get to that in just a bit - it's difficult to tell how many of these troops and what type were on the north shore of the island that day.

We can discount the Mongol statements of 100,000 or more found in the Yuan Shi. This is pure propaganda designed to excuse the failure of the first invasion. The combined strength of the two sides at the Battle of Sekigahara fought nearly 300 years later, at a time when Japanese feudal militarization was at its height, was something like 160,000 all arms; I doubt if the bakufu could have raised 100,000 troops from all of Japan in 1274.

We have no direct strength reports from the Japanese sources. In the absence more modern estimates run from somewhere in the mid-thousands, 4,000 to 6,000, to as high as 10,000-12,000 all arms, a maximum I find easily believable, because:

1. The 鎌倉幕府, Kamakura bakufu or Kamakura shogunate, was a damn good military organization for it's time. Japan typically fought "above its weight" in the premodern period simply because the Japanese feudal organization was better logistically and organizationally than many of its contemporaries. The 13th Century shogunate was hardly the sleek military bureaucracy of the Tokugawa Era, as we'll see, but it was still well able to field, supply, and feed a significant force for some time, and

2. The battle took place in October after the harvest was in and the bulk of the peasant footsoldiers (that would eventually become the 足軽 ashigaru of the high feudal wars of the 16th and 17th Centuries) would have been freed of their agricultural responsibilities, and

3. The invaders had been knocking on the door for some time; this wasn't a surprise attack. Mongol embassies had arrived in Japan in March and September of 1269, again in September of 1271; and finally in May of 1272, each time with a message from the court of the Khan that pretty much boiled down to "Nice little island you got...shame if anything happened to it."


The Wiki entry for the Mongol Invasions notes that
"The Kamakura shogunate (Bakufu) under Tokimune ordered all those who held fiefs in Kyūshū (the area closest to Korea, and thus most likely to be attacked) to return to their lands, and forces in Kyūshū moved west, further securing the most likely landing points. After acknowledging its impotence, the Imperial Court led great prayer services, and much government business was put off to deal with this crisis."
So let's guess that the Japanese defense consisted of somewhere around 6,000-10,000.

This might be on the high side - Turnbull (2010) gives 4,000 to 6,000 as his guess - but clearly the Japanese force numbered more than a couple of thousand (that would have been blown away within hours) but less than "tens of thousands" (that would probably have managed to hold at the beaches without much trouble).

The problem, though, is even guessing the total that we still have no real notion of how this force broke down.

We know that the hard core of the Japanese defense was the 武士, bushi; the armored warrior we know as samurai; let's use the latter term as the more familiar to a Western reader.

Whatever you called them, at the time of the invasion these troops would have been primarily armored mounted archers, the bow (弓, yumi) the principal weapon. The better-known 刀, katana or "samurai sword", was not in widespread use during the 13th Century, the mounted man preferring the 太刀, tachi or longsword but preferring the bow to both.


The method of engagement was long-range arrow fire, the idea being to pick off your enemy with a superbly placed shot while riding around him. At some point the two sides got stuck in at handstrokes, but the ride-and-shoot part was the best part as far as these armored knights were concerned.

And I should note that in his general attitude the high-status 13th Century Japanese warrior was more-or-less a close relative of his contemporary the feudal European knight. He was NOT the fanatically-loyal-and-obedient automaton of the 17th Century. He was feudal in the military sense to the ends of the tassels on his agemaki; all about his own glory and his rep. His whole thing was battle, specifically, single-combat with an equal enemy whose death would bring him fame and riches. He was aggressive as hell but even then, as we'll see, the problem wasn't getting him to fight, it was trying to get him to fight where and when and how you wanted him to.

He was a pain in the fucking ass, frankly, and a hell of a lot of Japanese history can be explained by trying to figure out what the right answer would be to the simple question "How do we control these kami-damned samurai?"

The samurai families were about 10% of the population of Japan in the 18th and 19th Centuries but the group would have been at significantly over-represented at Hakata bay in Bun-ei 11. Japanese troops had little experience at that point fighting outside Japan or enemies other than Japanese, and the primary objective of the bushi was, as I've said, individual glory and single-combat; the notion of a "tailored force package" was gibberish to the 13th Century Japanese commanders. So it's very probable that the Hakata force was samurai-heavy, full of guys looking for glory and Mongol heads.

Let's assume that half to more than half the defenders - somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 - were mounted samurai. So here we've got a whole bunch of homicidal armored bowmen standing around that November day looking to mount up and kill something.

The quality of these soldiers would have been generally high but somewhat variable, ranging from well-trained, well-armed wealthy men with a fairly substantial fighting tail numbering in the dozens to single individuals who could barely scrape together enough money to afford the arms, armor, and mount, but all would have been fairly to very effective at the sort of individual mounted combat they specialized in.

But what about the rest of the gang?

Well, some of them would have been armored footsoldiers, probably another 2,000 to 3,000 or so. These would have been the poorer armed retainers of the local clans, not the large units of organized ashigaru infantry of the later Muromachi and Sengoku Periods. Their armor would have been the much less elaborate, probably the 胴丸, dō-maru style rather than the 大鎧, ō-yoroi, type worn by the knightly class and their primary weapons would probably have been some sort of polearm, 槍, yari, the straight-bladed spear or 薙刀, naginata, the glaive or curve-bladed spear with a sword in reserve. Some would have been archers, some, the humbler, might have had no more than a sword or two. Effective fighters in an individual sense, but not "infantry", much less an infantry unit or units in the way we think of them.

That would leave almost all of the remaining 2,000 or so as the rice-farmer sort of peasant levy. These poor sods would have been the humblies from the local samurai estates and usually dragged off their farms with all the enthusiasm of their European equivalents.

It's worth noting that raising the peasants was probably much less difficult for this fight than for the usual inter-clan feud; the Mongols had been very naughty on the way over to the Japanese home islands and the results of a Mongol landing would have been ugly even by Japanese-peasant-standards.
However even with their blood up the fighting value of these levies was probably debateable and their impact on the events of Bun'ei 11 questionable. Some probably had real spears or naginata but probably a bunch with nothing but a sharpened bamboo spear, a rice-flail, or a pitchfork. Their ability to do more than more than stand in place is unlikely; even moving short distances without their becoming a mob is hard to imagine. But, as we'll see, much of the fighting for the Japanese side consisted of standing in one place.

So; perhaps 2,000-5,000 armored missile cavalry and another 2,000-3,000 armored melee infantry with a light infantry contingent of perhaps another 2,000 or so under the overall command of several of the 守護, shugo or military officials, of Kyūshū including Shimazu Hisatsune (shugo of Satsuma, Hyuga, and Osumi provinces) and Otomo Yoriyasu, shugo of Bungo, Buzen, and Higo provinces. The notional commander of this force would have been Shoni Tsunesuke, shugo of Hizen, Chikuzen, and Chikugo provinces as well as the islands of Ikishima and Tsushima, but my understanding is that this officer had no direct role in the combat at Hakata Bay.
A Brief Note on Provinces and Their Adminstration: The ancient internal divisions of Japan have a tangential relationship with the modern prefectures; there's a hint of similarity in the areas but the extents and the names are very different.

県, ken, or prefectures are the modern internal divisions of Japan, established in the 19th Century; Kyūshū has eight, including Okinawa. The modern prefectures are shown on the map at the beginning of the post. Go ahead and take a look. I'll wait.

OK, got it?

The older divisions were called 国, kuni, which is typically rendered into English as "provinces" or "counties". Of these, Kyūshū also had eight back in the day but the boundaries were very different. Here they are:

There's Hakata again, the orange circle in Chikuzen no kuni, Chikuzen Province.

In 1274 these administrative divisions were typically run by two representatives of the military government at Kamakura. The shugo you've heard already; this was the guy with the police and military powers, a sort of combined state adjutant general and state police commissioner and, especially in a remote province, the local magistrate.

His counterpart was the 地頭, jito, whose function was more administrative; he collected the imperial taxes and was more concerned with estate management, but he would also have been of the bushi class and was at bottom a fighting man. Both typically were appointed from the 御家, gokenin, military "nobility" that are described in the Wiki entry as "...descendants of former (independant land)owners, former peasants, or former samurai, who...were rewarded (with land and/or position). They also collected local taxes and ruled over territories they were entrusted with, but nominally didn't own (those lands). Because the shogun had usurped the emperor's power to nominate them, they owed loyalty only to him. As long as they remained faithful, they had considerable autonomy from the central government."

The defenders of 1274 would have been these gokenin, the feudal troops of the military ruler; nominally loyal to the Emperor and "Japan" but, in practice, owing their livelihoods to the bakufu and it's leaders and considering themselves men of their clan, first, then their region, and only lastly "Japanese". The men who defended the beach that day were not just removed from us in time; they were very much men of the Japan of 1274, a Japan which bears some likeness but as much or more difference to the Japan of 2014.

Forces of 大元, Dao Yuan, the Great Yuan Dynasty - 忽必烈;, The Great Khan, Kublai, had proclaimed the beginning of the Yuan Dynasty three years earlier in 1271 as part of the long conquest of the Chinese heartland by the Mongolyn Ezent Güren, the Mongol Empire founded by Genghis Khan in the early 13th Century. At the time of the Battle of Bun'ei Kublai's forces were still fighting to conquer the southern Song state in what is now the parts of China south of the Yangtze River. The Yuan had, however, already invaded and largely subdued the Korean peninsula and put a Yuan Quisling on the throne there. This will have an impact on the battle for Hakata Bay, as we'll see.

The hard core of the invasion force was probably roughly between a Tümen and one-and-a-half Tümen of the sort of Mongol troops that had swept out of the steppe of central Asia and conquered half the Eurasian world by the last quarter of the 13th Century. A Tümen was the basic grand tactical Mongol unit; 10,000 troops divided into decimal sub-units down to a 10-man aravt or squad.

The image we have of the Mongols of the 13th Century is "This Guy":


The squat, hard-faced horseman with his shaggy steppe pony, his floppy fut hat and his bow, peering patiently down from the ridge onto the peaceful village below, grim harbinger of Death.

The Mongol of our imagination is part of a Horde of light horsemen, swarming out of the dust and the forest, bows sleeting a deadly hail of arrows. That image impressed itself on the peoples of eastern Europe for more than a century and it's actually, for a popular conception, remarkable accurate.

The central strength of the Mongol Empire was that horseman; hardy and rapid moving, tactically flexible, well-disciplined, and ferociously violent. But he was not the only weapon in the Mongol arsenal in 1274.

By 1274 the waves of light horse-archers were backed up by a mailed fist of heavy armored mounted lancers; the equivalent of the Byzantine cataphract cavalry or the Ottoman or Mamluk heavy horse; armored men on armored horses armed with lances as their primary weapon that charged into close combat. The ratio of light to heavy cavalry in the Mongol armies of the 13th Century seems to have been roughly 3:2.
Our only source for the number and composition of the Yuan expeditionary force is the Yuan Shi, that gives the Mongol and Chinese numbers as 15,000. We don't have a better breakdown that that, but given that the conquest of China was fairly recent and the Northern Song troops fairly newly incorporated into the new dynasty I suspect that most of the "Mongol and Chinese" troops were, in fact, Mongol.

Another 1,600 of the expedition are listed as Korean. Korea was even more recent a conquest than China, and the reliability of Korean grunts would likely have been pretty low. I suspect that some of the Koreans listed were crew for the some 900 ships that conveyed the invasion force from the embarkation ports to the Japanese shore as well as infantrymen.

Here's the thing about this force, though. All the sources we have for this battle suggest - or show - that many of the Mongol forces 1) fought on foot and 2) in compact formations.

This doesn't sound like the sort of swirling mobile tactics the Mongol horse archers were known for; it sounds a lot more like the kind of infantry tactics used in Song Dynasty China as well as in Goryeo Korea. This tends to change our ideas of this force. Perhaps the conquered peoples - Chinese and Korean - provided more fighting soldiers than they otherwise would have.

Or...maybe the Mongols left their ponies at home.

That's my thought. Without modern steel vessels and specialized horse-transport ships its difficult for us, in our mechanized society, to conceive of the difficulty for a preindustrial society of transporting horses by sea.

Horses don't like to stand on an uneven surface. Unless they've been rigorously trained to do it they typically don't go up and down things like ramps willingly, and they don't like to jump up or down onto a wooden deck from a dock or quay, or over railings into the water.


They tend to be exceptionally poor sailors, nervous in the confinement of a small stall and a wooden deck overhead, and spooking at the sudden movement of the ship or the strange noises of wind and wave. When frightened they will typically attempt to run and, if restrained, will fight to escape, kicking, rearing, and plunging, and a terrified thousand-pound animal can do a tremendous amount of damage to a wooden ship.

Frankly, I have serious doubts about how many horses the invasion force brought along. I suspect that a lot of the Mongol troops were dismounted for this expedition. That wasn't an automatic deal-breaker as it might have been with some other nomadic armies; the Mongols were known for their siegecraft, very much a footsoldier sort of task, and they had considerable experience with infantry, if only to attack them. So while I have no doubt that some of the Mongol soldiers brought their mounts along with them I strongly doubt that this number was large or significant as a tactical factor in the engagement.

So, roughly 16,500 to perhaps about 20,000 all arms. Probably somewhere between several hundred to several thousand mixed light missile and heavy melee cavalry with the remainder a varied mix of light missile infantry and heavy melee infantry. The commanders are virtual cyphers; we know some of their names from the Yuan Shi: Chinese general Liu Fuxiang, Korean officer Kim Pang-gyong, and Mongol officers Hu-tun and Hong Ta-gu...but beyond the mere names we have no real idea who these men were and what their abilities were. Turnbull (2010) dismisses them with the observation that "(t)he Khan's leading generals were fully engaged in the main struggle against the Song..." so we are left to conclude that both the troops and the leaders of the 1274 expedition were likely less than the best that the Yuan Dynasty could field.


The Sources: Three. Or very nearly.

I'm not kidding. As far as I can find out there are only three major sources of information on the Battle of Bun'ei; one from China and two Japanese. All three suffer from the usual failings of medieval chronicles; excessive reliance on hearsay and anecdote, relative innumeracy, and the disconnect between the men who fought the fight and the men who wrote about it. No reports from the commanders to their rulers, no casualty returns, logistical tallies, orders of battle, or morning reports; none of the sort of technical and tactical records we expect from modern military forces.

Add on the difficulty for a Western reader to access sources written in Japanese as well as a Chinese work (the Yuan Shi) that was compiled by Chinese scholars reading Mongolian records.

From the Japanese side there are also a small collection of minor sources such as the accounts of the then-controversial Buddhist monk 日蓮Nichiren, samurai family histories, and surviving official records of the Kamakura bafuku.

You can imagine the difficulties.

From the Mongol side the only real source is a chronicle of the Yuan Dynasty called the 元史, Yuan Shi, or History of Yuan, a work with a plethora of problems.

First of all, despite its title it was not written by a Mongol, or during the Yuan Dynasty. So far as we can tell it was begun about two years after the fall of the Yuan and the accession of the first emperor of the succeeding Ming Dynasty. Talk about history being "written by the victor"...the supposed eyewitness account of the Mongol rule of China was written by the Chinese who kicked the Mongols out.

Adding to the obvious bias on the part of the authors was the haste with which the Yuan Shi was compiled. The entire 200-odd chapter compilation took less than a year to finish. The Wiki entry says:
"The History of Yuan has been criticized by imperial Chinese scholars for its lack of quality and numerous errors, attributed to the haste with which it was compiled. The Qing-era historian and linguist Qian Daxin commented that of the official histories, none was more quickly completed - or worse in quality - than that of the Yuan dynasty. Wang Huizu, another Qing-era scholar, compiled a work on the history pointing out more than 3,700 factual and textual errors in the text, including duplicated biographies for important figures such as Subutai, as well as inconsistent transliterations of the same name - Phagspa, for example, was transliterated in three different ways."
If that wasn't trouble enough the actual manuscript is extremely rare: only two copies are known to exist today, both in the Mongolian National Library and extremely difficult to access. Try as I might I could find no image of the original text on the Internet. So it's difficult to assess how accurate the original history of the expedition was, and what, if any, inaccuracies crept in in the seven centuries since its creation.

The primary Japanese source is a piece of official propaganda from the Hachiman shrine at Iwashimizu called the Hachiman Gudokun and is principally concerned with convincing the bafuku that the prayers offered to Hachiman were the main reason the invaders were licked. I am not entirely sure if there exists an English translation of the full text, which though composed in the early 14th Century is known only from a manuscript copy from the Late 15th.

Additional contemporary Japanese sources are said to exist in family records as well as in the Imperial archives as well as in the libraries of temples and monasteries.

Perhaps the must controversial, confusing, and delightful record of the events of Bun'ei 11 is a collection of images with explanatory text - a sort of military historical strip-cartoon called the 蒙古襲来絵詞, Moko Shurai Ekotoba, the "Illustrated Account of the Mongol Invasion" or, more commonly, the "Mongol Invasion Scrolls".


This work seems to have been commissioned in the late 13th Century - the year 1293 is cited on the second section - by a guy named 竹崎 季長, Takezaki Suenaga, a gokenin samurai from Higo Province.

This joker Takezaki seems to have either been one of history's biggest shameless douchebags or a man with absolutely no filter between his mind and his mouth. His conduct on the battlefield is certainly fierce - to the point of lunacy, at time - but is characterized by a ridiculous amount boneheaded tactical stupidity, chicanery, and disobeying the orders of his feudal masters. Keep in mind that the story recounted is his version of the events; as Turnbull (2010) puts it: "...it would not have been surprising to have read the the Mongol Invasion Scrolls were compiled by his commanding officer so that Suenaga could be have been adequately disciplined."

In common with other medieval manuscripts the Scrolls have had a tough life over the ensuing seven centuries. Campi (2002) recounts this:
"The scrolls were kept at the Kaito shrine until seized in the 1360s by the Nawa and placed in the Aso shrine. The work ha(d) suffered extensive water damage and the glue that held the pages together dissolved. The Suenaga scrolls were rediscovered late in the eighteenth century, but there (wa)s no clear order for the images and passages.

In 1793 the scrolls were dispatched to Edo [Tokyo] and copied into the documents that exist today. However, the work was only divided into two scrolls in 1797, so there is some confusion as to which invasion story some illustrations belong. The scrolls were returned to Higo province in 1825 until presented to the Japanese Meiji emperor in 1890. Only
in 1989 were the scrolls bestowed to the nation and placed in the Museum of the Imperial Collections (Sannomaru Shozokan)"
Thomas Conlan has produced a worthwhile little study of the Invasion Scrolls, In Little Need of Divine Intervention (Conlan, 2001). I enjoyed the work, the reproductions of the Scrolls are invaluable, but it is not without its critics, and his conclusion - that the Japanese defeated the Yuan invasions based on military superiority alone and that the famous kamikaze was more myth than fact - seems to me poorly supported.

A number of worthwhile secondary works have been produced on the Invasions; all undoubtedly suffer from the same paucity of primary sources as does this one. In preparation of this post I used the Conlan book as well as the 2010 Stephen Turnbull The Mongol Invasions of Japan 1274 and 1281 published by Osprey and found both as useful as could be.

I encountered a scattering of worthwhile resources on the Internet that cover the Mongol invasions in general. Bowdoin College has a lovely little site that presents Takezaki's Invasion Scrolls, providing nice images of parts of the manuscript as well as some useful insight into the difficulty in reassembling the original from the various versions and revisions extant.

The Wiki entry appears to be acceptable for its setting though with some peculiar assertions. For example, it cites the 日本王代一覧, Nihon ōdai ichiran, or Table of Rulers of Japan as the source for the Japanese belief that the invasion was defeated because the invasion force ran out of arrows - a frankly unbelievable assertion and one hard to credit the gokenin who were on Hakata beach as seriously proposing - without mentioning that the Table of Rulers was written in the late 17th Century. While useful as a general introduction it contains little of real military value.

Although not really pertinent to the events of 1274 the Archaeology website has a good little article on the modern investigation into the wrecks of the great storm of 1281. Another good naval archaeological site is maintained by one Ramdall Sasaki; the pictures alone are well worth investigating.

That's pretty much it. As with the sources, little has been published on the Internet about this engagement. I figure I might as well be the first.


The Campaign: One good first question to ask would be; what the fuck did Kublai Khan want with Japan, anyway?

No kidding, really; Kublai, what the fuck, man? Your Mongol Empire was as continental a polity as ever was, run and ruled by a bunch of steppe-nomads and hacked out of Eurasia by a bunch of guys on horses with bows. You needed a navy and an island outpost like a duck needs nuclear weapons, and trying to get them got a lot of your good troops killed. What was the attraction?

Certainly one reason may well have been what we'd call today "national security". Once the Song Dynasty was overthrown the Yuan controlled all of the mainland from Korea to Vietnam; the only real military threat to the east was Japan. While the Japanese showed little interest in military conquest on the mainland they were really the only state that might, and as we here in the United States know only too well it takes little more than an ambitious ruler to insist that a smoking gun may become a mushroom cloud at any moment and decide to invade to prevent that fantasy of danger.

Another might simply have been momentum; the Mongol armies had conquered all before them to the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Why stop there? Certainly there must have been a sort of "manifest destiny" faction at the Yuan Court that believed that it was just natural for Mongol rule to extend as far as there were people to rule, Japanese included.

Turnbull (2010) suggests that Japan's wealth was a reason. He cites Marco Polo as claiming that the Imperial Palace was paved with gold and that these riches were part of Kublai Khan's motivation. This, given the incredible wealth for the taking in Song China, seems frankly unbelievable.

One more plausible reason is that Japan had both the capability to intervene on the side of the Southern Song (in 1274, at least) as well as military power that would be helpful in defeating the Song if properly re-directed. So by taking control of Japan the Khan would further his greater goal of the complete subjugation of China.


Whatever the reasons, Mongol pressure on Japan to join the Coalition of the Willing began as early as 1266 and, as we've discussed, accelerated in the years between 1269 and 1272. The messages were couched in the usual diplomatic flannel but the steel beneath the niceties was tangible. The message from 1269 concludes with the admonition: "...if we should not establish friendly relations between us...(w)ho would care to appeal to arms?"

These messages, along with warnings of Mongol preparations from the Korean government-in-exile (to the island of Ganghwa in the Han River delta) until the final conquest of Korea, were dealt with not by the Emperor - who was a figurehead and had been since the Genpei War of the 12th Century - but by one of the samurai military elite that had taken power. In 1274 this was not even the ostensible military ruler, the shogun - a mook by the name of 惟康親王, Prince Koreyasu - but his 執権, shikken (regent), a guy named 北条 時宗, Hōjō Tokimune. Tokimune, the regent for the regent, mobilized the gokenin of Kyūshū some time after the threatening messages in the late 1260s or early 1270s, but the gokenin of southern Honshu only late in 1274.
Meanwhile the Mongol invasion fleet and its troops sailed from harbors along the south coast of Korea on 2 NOV 1274 (the 3rd day of the 10th lunar month) to begin the operation. Two days later the fleet was sighted off the island of Tsushima.

The fight for Tsushima was brief, and brutal. A couple of hundred defenders - 80 mounted samurai and their footsoldiers - met about 1,000 Mongol, Chinese, and Korean troops on the beach near the town of Sasuura. The fighting was hard, and the attackers are said to have been badly mishandled, but the entire Japanese force was butchered.


The invasion force spent about a week enjoying some casual plunder, murder, rape, and the other traditional prerogatives of the victor before sailing on 13 NOV to arrive at the small island of Iki the same afternoon.

Same shit, different day; Mongols and their Chinese and Korean troops pile ashore, Japanese kill as many as possible before being overrun. The usual atrocities ensue. By nightfall the next day the invasion force lands on the Matsuura peninsula and do their usual killing and burning before re-embarking and sailing for the larger settlements around Hakata Bay, which they reached some time on 19 NOV.
The Engagement: As with the other aspects of Bun'ei 11, what we don't know about the actual fighting is extensive. What we do know is the outline of the Mongol and Japanese movements and some tactical details of the fighting.

We know that the Mongol commander landed a detachment within Hakata Bay but west of the main landing site in what is now Imazu Bay, near the modern towns of Imajuku and Shimoyamato. We don't know how large this force was or how it was organized, except that at least some of this force may have been mounted. The Hachiman Gudokun says: "The Mongols disembarked from their ships, mounted their horses, raised their banners and began the attack." However, it seems that another portion of the Mongol force consisted of massed infantry. The Hachiman continues: "Halberds and long-shafted weapons were carried with no empty space between them..."

We can assume that the Japanese commander - or whoever was in command of the western elements of the Japanese force - sent out a portion of his command to intercept this Mongol attack as it marched eastwards. Whatever this force was and whatever it did the mission was either unsuccessful or the commander's intent was a purely delaying action, because the western Mongol force attacked successfully eastwards to meet the main landing at the southeastern arc of Hakata Bay near the modern Port of Hakata.

At this point both of the combatants began to notice the real difference in the way the two sides fought.

The Mongols (and their Chinese and Korean subject troops) fought as units under the command and control of their officers. The Yuan Shi says: "...(the Mongol) generals gave command by beating drums and the troops advanced or retreated according to the beat of the drums". The Hachiman notices the same thing: "The commander-in-chief of their army took up a position on high ground, and when they had to pull back he beat the drum of retreat. When they were going to advance he struck the attack gong."

The Japanese gokenin, on the other hand, were still thinking largely of personal glory. One of the samurai opened the main engagement in traditional Japanese warrior fashion by firing a signalling arrow - an arrow tipped with some sort of whistle - over the Mongol formation. This was to alert the kami that men were going to do great deeds. The invasion force - probably worried that this joker was going to skewer someone - laughed their asses off when the whistler looped overhead.

The chronicles note that the gulf between the two sides was technical as well as tactical. The Mongol force had adopted Chinese artillery; what the Chinese supposedly called "chien tienli" and the Japanese "tetsuhau".


These were some sort of rocket with a warhead made of ceramic or cast iron filled with black powder, a sort of 13th Century Congreve Rocket. The effects of these early RAP-rounds seems to have been as much psychological as physical; the Hachiman says that between the explosions, the drums, and the gongs the Japanese horses were utterly bugnuts and almost uncontrollable. All the accounts agree that the samurai tried their usual ride-around-and-shoot style and managed to kill their share but were usually unable to kill enough people - to "attrit", in the term soldiers prefer to "butcher", the Mongol force - enough to disorder their units and alter their movements.

We don't know exactly what happened, but my guess is that the Mongol bowmen would drive off the samurai cavalry to enable the melee infantry to move forward and then the blocks of spearmen would provide protection for the foot-archers as they forced the Japanese back from handstrokes. Without artillery, without an equivalent mass of infantry, and without either horse archers acting in groups or heavy cavalry capable of riding down footsoldiers (the samurai cavalry doesn't seem to have acted in mass, and individuals or small mounted groups trying to ride into infantry are dead once their movement stops; unable to use their greater mass and surrounded by more numerous enemies they will eventually be pulled down and killed) the Japanese really had no tactical "solution" to the advancing Mongol infantry units.

So between the mismatch of close-order infantry and armored missile cavalry, and the better tactical organization of the invaders, the defenders were pushed off the beach and down the Mikasa River to the southeast.

This was bad. The regional capital was just southeast of Hakata Bay at 太宰府市, Dazaifu-shi. Loss of the admin center at Dazaifu would have caused real problems for the defense of the island, and would have given the invaders a fortified place to spend the night.

As it was, the defenders seem to have managed to fall back on and hold what was called the ミズキ, Mizuki, or "water castle".

This thing wasn't really a castle but rather a rock curtain wall constructed across the valley of the Mikasa River.


This fortification is described as "...a fortress on a mound, 1.2km long and 14m high, surrounded by a bulwark. It had a moat (on the northwest side) with a width of 60 meters and a depth of 4 meters and was filled with water..."

The Japanese defenders were still holding this fortification as night began to fall. According to the Hachiman at this point Shoni Kagesuke also seriously wounded one of the Mongol leaders, Liu Fuxiang.

At that point the invasion force withdrew to their ships.
Why?

I mean, so far the fighting had been hard and the invaders taken some - perhaps significant - casualties. But they were beating the Japanese, had pushed them off the beach and several miles up the Mikasa to the Water Castle. It would seem to me as a simple cannon-cocker that there was no real reason to assume that the next day would change things assuming the two sides remained roughly equal.

So what was it? Were the invasion force commanders unwilling to spend the night on a largely unknown hostile shore? Had the resistance of the Japanese been fierce enough - and both sides agree that it was fierce, even if more disorganized than it should have been - to convince the Mongol leaders to sod this for a game of soldiers? Were these leaders also worried that the Japanese might be gathering troops (a not unreasonable suspicion) and that the next day they might be facing not 2.5:1 or 2:1 odds but more like 1:1, or even worse?

Or was the intent all along to just see what would happen on a single day of fighting? Was this nothing more than a big raid, a vast reconnaissance-in-force, designed to gather whatever information about the defenders and defenses of the northern Kyūshū coast could be had in a day?

The Yuan Shi presents a Ming scholar's reconstruction of the council of war that took place in the Mongol CP as night fell on 19 NOV.:
"Kim Pang-gyong remonstrated with Hu-tun and Hong ta-gu, saying, "Our forces are small in number, it is true, but that are already on the emeny's land. They are battle-minded now. Let us therefore fight it out." Hu-tun replied, saying, "They say if one puts up a strong fight with a small force, one ends up being captured by the large force. To drive on fatigued troops into the enemy ground is not safe tactics. It is better to draw back our forces."
Whatever the reason, the invasion force pulled back, not just to the beach but to their ships.

Presumably the Japanese defenders set into the sort of restless night typical for soldiers in close quarters with an armed enemy; the guys who can sleep snoring and twitching and thrashing in the nightmares that follow a day of fighting, many of the other trying to just lie down and rest bodies exhausted from the hard physical work of hand-to-hand combat and the mental strain of spending a full day in the immediate presence of death and grievous wounds.
And, of course, all the other sorts of military bullshit that keeps the joes from sleeping; the asshole from HQ who trips over you while shouting for some guy you know is not in your unit, the nosy NCO looking for some idle bodies for a detail, and the random noise and confusion of any outfit on the first night in the field.

Then there would have been the pre-dawn stand-to, as the dirty, tired, sleepy, probably hungry, probably nervous (and some, the braver, excited) Japanese troops were shaken awake to fall into their positions. Undoubtedly there was a mutter of conversation ranging from pure nervous chatter and bad jokes to some variation of "Wonder what that fuckin' genius (insert shifty offier's name here) has planned for us today?" to some variation of "For what we are about to receive may the kami make us truly thankful." Hands would have tightened around hilts and shafts, or adjusted and re-adjusted bowstrings and armor.

But when the first sunlight of 20 NOV showed Hakata Bay the invasion fleet was gone.
Again, we don't really know why.

Again, possibly this was a planned withdrawal. Possibly this was a tactical decision; the ground troops may have been so badly mishandled the day before that the invasion commanders had decided that a full withdrawal was their only real choice.

Possibly the plan was to have re-landed on 20 NOV but the weather had turned during the night; the Yuan Shi says: "...that night there was a great storm and our fighting craft were dashed against the rocks and destroyed in great numbers." although the problem with this is that some of the Japanese sources - especially the Hachiman that never fails to mention any sort of divine intervention - make no mention of any storm along the Japanese coast and says that the local people we surprised to find the invaders gone except for a single ship that had run aground. Certainly November is not typical typhoon season, and even normal winter storms tend to come from the west or northwest, suggesting that a big winter storm would have driven the invasion fleet ashore rather than drive it off to the north or west. However, an imperial court diary uses the term "a contrary wind" and notes that this contrary wind "left some on land".

This storm may have struck after the invasion commanders chose to withdraw for tactical reasons. The force is reported to have lost heavily (Turnbull (2010) cites a "contemporary record" as claiming that this number was 13,500 and one-third of the invasion force, which seems extreme given what we think was the initial strength of the invasion) though whether these losses were during the engagement or the voyage to and from the islands is impossible to determine.

Regardless of the why, the danger to the Japanese home islands was over. For now.


The Outcome: Japanese tactical victory
The Impact: Well, we know that the "impact" in strategic terms was minimal. The Mongols returned in August of 1281 with an even larger force. This force was not just defeated but destroyed, supposedly largely by the kamikaze, the typhoon that has since been famous as the "divine wind" that showed the gods were on the side of the Japanese.

I'd like to suggest, though, that the events of Bun'ei 11 had several long-term effects - beginning in 1281 but continuing down through the centuries.

First, the bakufu reorganized the defenses of Kyūshū, including building a series of defensive walls along the north shore of the island so as to provide tactical strongpoints similar to the Mizuki, and raising additional gokenin from both Kyūshū and across the Home Islands.

And, second, the samurai had learned some of what worked and what didn't against a massed infantry force. All that feudal caprioling and promiscuous arrow dueling went by the board . The second invasion was met at the water's edge by massed bowfire backing armored infantry in fortified positions; unlike 1274, in 1281 the invasion force couldn't even manage to force a beachhead and had to return to their ships again that evening where the kamikaze could destroy them.

Perhaps the single most significant impact was, eventually, on the Japanese national character. The stories of the invasions of the 13th Century passed into lore and eventually legend. The legend as Japan as the 神国, shinkoku or land of the gods, the favored people and polity of Heaven.

I'll go ahead and say straight out; any people, or any nation, that is convinced that "God is on our side" is setting themselves up to make appalling political mistakes, whether you say it as "shinkoku" or "Gott mit uns" or "God Bless America". The Japanese conviction of divine sanction - born of the events of the 13th Century - that mere Japanese-ness was enough to ensure rightness and goodness led eventually to the horrors of Nanjing, Unit 731, and Death Railway.

Touchline Tattles: As you can imagine, the only piece of entertainment to emerge from the events of the Mongol invasions comes from our pal Takezaki Suenaga, the Bad Samurai of Higo.

He managed to get recognition for doing not-much in 1274. In 1281 he was back at it, still trying to win fame and fortune by lopping Mongol heads. But things didn't work out all that well for him, again.

After the repulse of the initial landings the fighting was transferred to the bay itself, where samurai swarmed the invasion fleet in small boats. But our boy Takezaki hadn't bothered to get himself a boat, and he quickly found that getting a ticket to the fighting wasn't easy. Turnbull (2010) describes Takezaki's adventures:
"Time and again Suenaga tried to negotiate for a place while successive boats...set off without him...when he spotted a boat bearing the flag of Adachi Yasumori. Suenaga commandeered a messenger boat to row him out...and proclaimed that he had been sent by the shugo and had been ordered to get on the next available boat. No one on board believed this falsehood...so (when) Suenaga jumped on to Adachi's boat...several men tried to throw him back."
Adachi finally orders Takezaki the hell of his boat and our hero reluctantly retreats to his rowboat.

But that's not the end for our enterprising samurai. He sees another boat and has his oarsman row like Hell to catch it, whereupon he "...first claimed that he was on a secret mission from the shugo, hence his solitary role, and then that he was, in fact, the deputy shugo. The boat in question was already full but the commander, who was eager to get into battle, allowed him to clamber on board."

So full, in fact, that Takezaki had to leave not just his footsoldiers behind but his helmet, as well. Oh, well; our boy wasn't going to let the lack of a brain bucket keep him out of the slaughter - he strapped a couple of shinguards around his head!

On the way to the hackfest Takezuki proceeds to regale his probably-irritated companions about his experience fighting Mongols, which I'm sure they all enjoyed - nothing is as entertaining for a GI as listening to a someone else's war story.

But the man could at least back up his talk; here he is shortening a Mongol by a head - notice his field-expedient shinguard-helmet coming loose...


We don't know how effective Takezaki's cartoon tale of heroism was at securing him the recognition he clearly felt he clearly deserved; so far as I know there is no record of whether or how well he was rewarded for his somewhat ridiculous adventures at Hakata Bay.

But give the boy credit for this - it he didn't get his props wasn't his fault. Suenaga was livin' the Code of Bushi StreeT: Get Riches and Glory Or Die Tryin'.

16 comments:

Ael said...

Thanks Chief,

Food for thought, certainly.

mike said...

nice research Chief. concur with your inferences, especially on the mongols leaving their ponies behind due to the issue of horse transport.

Any objections if I link to this over at MilPub?

One speculation on my part: Might not the Koreans have been the reason for this Mongol invasion - as per Ahmed Chalabi or Curveball in the American invasion or Iraq in 2003. There had long been bad blood between the Korea and Japan.

PS - my Japanese language skills were never good, not much better than ordering sushi, flied lice, and a beer. And it is even worse fifty years later. but I do seem to recall that Bun'ei was a Japanese family name or possibly a clan name. Although it is unclear if the era was labeled for an individual or clan with that name or vice versa??

Ael said...

Ok, having thought about it a bit, what do you think of the Assyrian Siege of Jerusalem? Sort of the mother of all 'chosen people' battles.

Barry said...

FDChief: "However even with their blood up the fighting value of these levies was probably debateable and their impact on the events of Bun'ei 11 questionable. Some probably had real spears or naginata but probably a bunch with nothing but a sharpened bamboo spear, a rice-flail, or a pitchfork. Their ability to do more than more than stand in place is unlikely; even moving short distances without their becoming a mob is hard to imagine. But, as we'll see, much of the fighting for the Japanese side consisted of standing in one place."

They could be very valuable, depending on the situation.
Don't think of them as infantry, think of them as 2,000 guys with shovels, axes, ropes, levers, etc. They'd provide the grunt labor in field fortifications, and would move supplies.

Don Francisco said...

nice work again Chief

FDChief said...

Ael: I'm afraid that the problem w/ the siege of 688BC is that the sources are even poorer than this one; it's pretty much the accounts of Isaih, Chronicles and II Kings and Sennacherib's Prism. Interesting piece of history - especially given that it's supposedly critical in the monotheistic history of Judaism - but it'd be hard for me to add anything worthwhile...there's just not enough sort of "inherent military probability" to guess at...

FDChief said...

mike: My understanding is that the Koreans didn't have nearly the problem with Japan at that time that they did after the occupation of the 19th and 20th Centuries. The Japanese HAD invaded earlier...but, then, so had the Mongols and a lot more recently and bloodily.

In fact, after 1274 the Korean government appealed to the Yuan court to knock off fucking with the damn Nips; the hardships in terms of raising funds to build and equip the fleet and the forces, the losses suffered in the invasion, and the demands for new forces were brutal.

My understanding is that the nengo, the era-names, were typically phrases or tags that were supposed to symbolize the era itself. So, for example, the nengo for the period 1912-1926 (Taisho) means "great righteousness"; the following era (Showa) means either "promoting peace" or "promoting greatness".

So not a clan or personal name, but, rather, a slogan intended to tag the imperial era with its "intent"...

FDChief said...

Barry: The military value of these peons would have likely been considerable - their fighting value?

Not so much...

FDChief said...

DF: Thank you!

mike said...

Chief - you are probably right about the 'era-names'. Many Japanese names are more commonly derived from places or things. i.e. Yamamoto = 'base of mountain', or my favorite Yoshida = 'fragrant ricefield'.

This got my curiosity up, so I checked out "bun'ei" in an old Japanese dictionary. Turns out it has several meanings: 1] an outpost or detached garrison, 2] the nenga or era to which you referred 1264-1275, 3] a surname. and 4] a female given name. I somehow think they are all related, maybe remotely, but still somehow related, at least the first three.

As for the Korean connection, Seth's 'History of Korea' claims that the Goryeo king Chungnyeol instigated the Mongol invasion, at least the first one before he found out how expensive defeat was. Wiki claims it also. Tsushima Island was probably the main issue for as it was a den for Japanese pirates that preyed on Korean shipping and fishermen. Chungnyeol BTW was Kublai Khan's son-in-law. The Mongols had a habit of marrying off their princesses to subjugated royalty so that the future crown prince would have a blood connection with the empire.

FDChief said...

Interesting. Turnbull - not an unbiased source, since he comes to this from the Japanese side - says that the wako weren't the problem for the Korean coasts in the 13th Century that they became later (as part of his contention that the impetus for the invasions was largely Mongol rather than Korean.

I guess my take on it would be that there aren't many other examples of a client/conquered state influencing the Mongol Empire's policy in the way you suggest; in general the Mongols wanted tribute and a whole lot of STFU out of their vassal states. But I won't discount the possibility that there was a certain alignment of interests there...the Koreans may have had some axes to grind on the Japanese raiders (and their history of conflict) whilst the Mongols were thinking along the lines of strategic depth and eliminating support for the Southern Song.

The real bottom line is that I don't think we'll ever know. The contemporary/documentary evidence just doesn't seem to be there, at least not accessible in English. Hopefully someone will come across some minutes from Kublai's 1274 cabinet meeting where he lays out his thinking in detail. Until then we have a fair bit of grounds for speculation, but, as with so much about this fight, more possibilities than definite answers...

mike said...

Chief: Perhaps Seth used biased sources also. Just about all Korean histories of that time were secondary sources. All were based on the Goryeo-sa, written 200 plus years after the Battle of Bun'ei. So who knows the truth. Could be they were trying to rewrite history to soften the stain of Mongol rule. Or could be a tiny factoid in there somewhere. As you say we will never know without Twain's Connecticut Yankee.

Barry said...

FDChief: "Barry: The military value of these peons would have likely been considerable - their fighting value?

Not so much..."

Yes, and that's why they had them come.

2,000 peasants can dig a d*mn big ditch and moat in a long, hard day.

A friend who is a historian has been gaming out things like this, and pointed out that it's insanely useful to have a peasant crew show up, each carrying as much food as they can carry (say 1 week), and a tool (shovel, pick, rope, etc.).

They eat their food, work for a few days, building field fortifications, road, bridges, etc. Then they go back home. That way you don't need any extra food, and they leave before disease gets to be a problem. And a ditch and a palisade stop cavalry charge cold, and provide lots of protection vs. arrows.

Note that in one of the drawings, it looks like they did just that across a valley - a flooded ditch with a berm.

FDChief said...

Barry: that's the "Mizuki", the water castle, and, yes, the labor troops, to use a 20th Century term for them, were fairly critical to the eventual success of the Japanese defense.

The bottom line was that nobody in continental Eurasia that face them in the 13th Century really "solved" the tactical problem posed by the Mongol armies; that would have to wait until the rise of the gunpowder era several centuries later. The combination of tactical flexibility and discipline was too much for the early-medieval armies of the day, from Poland to Song China.

The Japanese had a similar problem in 1274, mitigated by the facts that 1) the Mongol force was either more non-Mongol than commonly thought or Mongols-without-horses (which is my theory) and, possibly 2) the whole thing was a big recon mission.

But the thing is, the Japanese learned from their hard lesson. By 1281 they had fortified the beaches - using those pick-and-shovel guys you mention - and met the still-horseless-Mongols (and, admittedly, probably largely Chinese and Korean) at the water's edge and pretty much fought them to a standstill. The divine wind took care of the rest...

So...no argument that the peasant are militarily/tactically important. Just not much of a factor once the actual shooting starts...

Leon said...

Chief, how do you know ducks don't need nuclear weapons?

FDChief said...

Anyone who can roll water off their ass doesn't need advanced weaponry. Stealth technology, though, might help during wabbit season.