The Mongol Invasion of Japan 1274 and 1281, Stephen Turnbull

The Mongol Invasion of Japan 1274 and 1281, Stephen Turnbull

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The Mongol Invasion of Japan 1274 and 1281, Stephen Turnbull

The Mongol Invasion of Japan 1274 and 1281, Stephen Turnbull

The two Mongol invasions of Japan of 1274 and 1281 represent a defining moment in Japanese history - the 'finest hour' of the Samurai, and the birth of the legend of the kamikaze, or 'divine wind', the typhoon that swept away the second Mongol invasion fleet in 1281.

Turnbull has used a wide range of sources, including accounts from Japan, the Mongols, Korea and China, depictions of the invasion in contemporary artwork (including the Moko Shuria Ekotoba or Mongol Invasion Scrolls, a series of painting with an associated narrative produced by the samurai Takezaki Suenaga in an attempt to gain a reward for his part in the fighting), and modern archaeology, which has shed a great deal of light on the nature of the invasion fleet and its fate in 1281.

It was particularly interesting to read a more detailed account of the second Mongol invasion, which is often overshadowed by its dramatic end in the great storm, but that actually included some significant fighting.

Turnbull has included a nice section on the aftermath of the invasion, looking at the fate of the Mongol dynasty in China, the impact of the wars on Korea and on the internal power struggles in Japan, as well as the more subtle battles fought within Japanese society in an attempt to take credit for the defeat of the invasions.

Opposing Commanders
Opposing Armies
The First Mongol Invasion of Japan, 1274
Between the Invasions, 1275-81
The Second Mongol Invasion of Japan, 1281
The Battlefields Today

Author: Stephen Turnbull
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 96
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2010

The Mongol Invasions of Japan in 1274-1281

Although the Mongols defeated most of the military powers they encountered, the Japanese samurai standout as the rare exception. Khubilai Khan&rsquos attempts to conquer Japan receive justified scrutiny not only because they appear as an aberration to Mongol military success, but also because of the so-called kamikaze or Divine Winds that demolished the Mongol fleets and thus, at least according to legend, saving Japan from the Mongols.

Stephen Turnbull is a prolific writer of the Osprey books in all of their series. As a prominent scholar of medieval Japanese warfare and well-acquainted with the Mongols, he is truly in his element with The Mongol Invasions of Japan in 1274-1281. His narrative of the events leading to the invasions and then the invasions combine multiple perspectives and use the more current scholarly literature. Indeed, the author has included much of the archaeological evidence and scholarship that came out only in the previous year, thus making The Mongol Invasions of Japan one of the more update to date Osprey books this reviewer has seen.

The book is organized with an introduction that summarizes the events prior to the actual invasion, including the Mongol campaigns in China and Korea, and how they were tied to the invasion of Japan. Turnbull describes the invasions of Korea and China succinctly yet lucidly and connecting all events in a coherent manner.

The introduction is followed by a comprehensive chronology that begins with the birth of Khubilai Khan. Most of the events are marked by year, with the exception of when the invasions occurred when events are broken down by the day. Turnbull ends the chronology in 1368 with the collapse of the Mongol domination of East Asia. Although the invasions ceased after 1281, the extension of the chronology into the fourteenth century demonstrates that the fear of another invasion lurked in the minds of the Japanese for decades.

The next section discusses opposing commanders. For the Mongols, Khubilai Khan receives the most attention although he was not present at the invasions. Although Khubilai ultimately ordered and envisioned the invasion, it is somewhat lamentable that more attention is not given to the Mongol and Korean commanders actually involved in the invasions. Turnbull simply notes that no prominent names were among the Mongol commanders (whether Mongol or Korean). He does list one Song general, Fan Wenhu , but only that he was a defeated Song general who was then placed in charge of the Chinese troops for the invasion. A few more details about the commanding officers could have been attempted, particularly with the publication of James Delgado&rsquos Khubilai Khan&rsquos Lost Fleet. His discussion of the Japanese commanders is more nuanced and detailed with a focus on Hojo Tokimune , the regent of Japan, and the positions of shugo (constables) and jito (steward) and the role those who held the position played in defending Japan.

In the following section, Opposing Armies, Turnbull examines both sides in terms of tactics, arms, and armor. In this he discusses the sources, including archaeological, art, and documentary evidence. This section in particular is commendable not only for the detailed discussion of the mechanics, advantages, and disadvantages of using the respective armor and weapons, but also the differences and similarities of the two armies in terms of how they engaged in warfare. One weakness of this section, however, is that with the Mongols, Turnbull does not discuss how the Korean or Chinese troops were equipped or how they fought.

The core of the book is, of course, the two attempted invasions which Turnbull describes vividly with a breakdown of each battle or stage. Included in between is a section on what happened in the years between the invasions. The accompanying maps give clear reference to the narrative and adequately display the course of events. Turnbull also provides anecdotes from the sources that add a personal touch to the course of action. Finally, Turnbull does not simply provide a narrative of the battle but analyzes why the Mongols and the samurai conducted certain actions. It his here that Turnbull&rsquos expertise in medieval Japanese warfare becomes particularly important as he views the event in the context of how the samurai fought in the 13 th century, with an emphasis on archery, as opposed to the sword emphasis of the later periods.

The final section of the book discusses the aftermath. Here the author discusses the myth of the kamikaze, but also how the myth ties back to the role of Shintoism and Buddhism in thirteenth century Japanese culture. Turnbull also includes a brief section on the battlefields and their current situation—useful information for anyone who wants to visit the sites.

As with all Osprey books, this one is lavishly illustrated with photographs--many taken by or including the author in the photograph--, maps, illustrations from the period, modern art work, as well as renditions of the battle vividly painted by Richard Hook. All of the artwork serves its purpose in illustrating certain points as well as providing the reader with a better grasp of medieval warfare.

In summary, The Mongol Invasions of Japan is one of best and useful Osprey books in terms of content. While not necessarily providing new information, which indeed is not the purpose of the Osprey books, this one does provide a nuanced account of the Mongol invasions using current scholarship that while written for the general public, scholars will also find it a useful work.

Campaign: The Mongol Invasions of Japan 1274 and 1281 (Series #217) (Paperback)

The two attempts by Khubilai Khan, the Mongol Emperor of China, to invade Japan in 1274 and 1281 represent unique events in the history of both countries. It pitted the samurai of Japan against the fierce warriors of the steppes who had conquered half the known world.

The Mongol conquest of Korea left them with a considerable quantity of maritime resources, which enabled them to thin seriously for the first time about crossing the Tsushima strait between Korea and Japan with an army of invasion. The first invasion, which began with savage raiding on the islands of Tsushima and Iki, made a landfall at Hakata Bay and forced the samurai defenders back inland. Luckily for the Japanese defenders, a storm scattered the Mongol invasion fleet, leading them to abandon this attempt.

In the intervening years the Japanese made defensive preparation, and the Mongol increased their fleet and army, so that the second invasion involved one of the largest seaborne expeditions in world history up to that time. This attempt was aimed at the same landing site, Hakata Bay, and met stiffer opposition form the new defences and the aggressive Japanese defenders. Forced buy a series of major Japanese raids to stay in their ships at anchor, the Mongol fleet was obliterated by a typhoon - the kami kaze (divine wind) - for the loss of as many as 90 per cent of the invaders. Although further preparations were made for an assault by the Mongols at the end of the 13ht and beginning of the 14th centuries, this proved to be the last realistic threat of an invasion of the home islands till 1945.

• Author: Stephen Turnbull • ISBN:9781846034565 • Format:Paperback • Publication Date:2010-01-26

The Initial Invasion

The Mongol army began their attack by launching ships and boats, at least 500, into the Sea of Japan. The Mongol army was ruthless in crushing the Japanese resistance and in one of their first battles, slaughtered the residents of two Japanese islands: Tsushima and Iki. The Japanese and the Mongols had different approaches to combat as the Japanese valued the code of Bushido while the Mongols valued victory and would rely on any method to achieve their success. The Mongol army encountered a devastating typhoon which offered a reprieve to the Japanese military as the Mongols lost close to 13,000 soldiers. The Mongol army retreated from Japan after the loss of their men, and for about seven years an uneasy peace prevailed in the region.

Formative Memory: The Thirteenth-century Mongolian Invasions and their Impact on Japan

[B]etween 607 and 894 Japan sent numerous study missions to China, and adopted many key elements of China’s administrative systems, along with its kanji writing system and Buddhism. But by the time China introduced paper money, under the Song Dynasty in the 11th century, Japan no longer looked to China as a mentor. Paper currency spread further across the world due to expansion of the Mongolian Empire, but banknotes were not introduced in Japan until as recently as 1873, the sixth year of Meiji period reform. The Mongols under Kublai Khan, a grandson of Genghis Khan, subdued the Song during the 13th century, and even sought to conquer Japan in two ultimately unsuccessful invasions. The first-ever one yen note circulated in Japan featured scenes of heroic defiance against the attempted Mongolian assaults.

Due to the similarity between these two clashes between the Mongols and Japan, and the fact that they occurred within a period of less than ten years, people could be forgiven for thinking that there was only one such invasion. These two attacks had strong impact at the time, but outside of Kyushu they were largely forgotten about centuries later. However, as Japan opened up to foreign influence in the Meiji era the legend of the destruction of the foreign invaders by kamikaze (divine wind) was revived, and spread through popular culture. Present-day fears of Chinese territorial expansion in the East China Sea may have ancient roots in this cultural memory.

The First Mongolian Invasion of Japan

The Mongolians made their first assault on Japanese territory in 1274. This was not only the first invasion attempt by the Mongols it was also the first attack of this scale by any foreign invader on Japanese soil. At this time Japan was functioning as a diarchy with the Imperial court presiding in Kyoto and the Shogunate bakufu government based in Kamakura. This made a difficult and dangerous situation even more complex.

Kublai Khan had become the supreme leader of the Mongolian Empire in 1260, and by 1271—when the planning for the invasion began—his vast empire included most of China, Russia, Central Asia, Persia and Mesopotamia. Despite controlling more territory than any human before him he desired more, and saw it as his destiny to control the Song territory of modern day Southern China, and also Japan.

Mongolia is a landlocked country, so despite the Mongols’ many successful campaigns across Europe and Asia they had limited naval experience, their preference being for horses. By the time of the invasion Korea had been under the control of Mongolia for several decades, and the Koreans were tasked with building ships nearby modern-day Pusan.

Before the invasion the Mongols sent a number of negotiators to Japan and Kublai Khan wrote a letter to Japan which was delivered in 1268. The Emperor’s court ignored it and the military in Kamakura wanted no involvement. The first two envoys returned to Mongolia empty-handed. The third and final envoy was expelled from Japan.

The invasion fleet finally left Korea on November 3rd 1274 (the third day of the tenth lunar month, erroneously written as October 3rd in some texts). Estimates of the number of invaders vary drastically: some sources claim 40,000, others go for 900 ships with 20,000 men. One book offers a precise figure of 6,700 sailors and 23,000 Mongol, Chinese and Korean soldiers (by 1274 the Mongols had taken Song China and conscripted some Song troops into their army). Stephen Turnbull—an expert on Japanese and Mongolian history of this period—goes for 900 ships with 16,600 men.

One thing that almost all books new and old agree on is that the Japanese who took part in the battles were vastly outnumbered. They consisted of between three and six thousand men. The only source disputing this is the Yuan Shi written by the Mongols after the battle, which claims they were faced by 102,000 Japanese warriors. No doubt this was an attempt in part to justify their loss.

The invaders first made landfall on November 5th at Tsushima, an island off the coast of Kyushu, between Korea and Japan, that at various stages in history has been part of both countries. The fighting here lasted less than a day as the invaders killed all the Japanese defenders.
The Mongols reached the mainland on November 15th, landing at Hakata Bay near the location of Fukuoka City in present-day Japan. The samurai faced unfamiliar war tactics, which helped the invaders immensely. The grandson of the Japanese commander, a boy of 12 or 13, fired the arrow signalling the commencement of hostilities. The invaders reportedly laughed and launched a barrage which included poison arrows and bombs made of paper and iron. The latter projectile proved particularly effective. Horses were petrified by the sound of this modern weapon used for the first time ever in Japan. By the 19th of November the Mongols had taken Dazaifu, the provincial capital.

However, here their luck ran out. Liu Fuxiang, one of the senior Mongolian commanders, who was said to be more than two meters tall, was shot in the face by the arrow of Commander Shoni Kagesuke. He and his army retreated to their ships to regroup, and decided to return to Korea. Somewhere during their long journey around a third of the fleet was lost in a storm, together with more than 10,000 men, according to some sources. However this was not during the typical typhoon season and neither was this the kamikaze (divine wind) that wiped out the Mongol fleet and saved Japan. That fate awaited the Mongols on their next assault in 1281.

The Second Mongolian Invasion of Japan

Kublai Khan sent envoys to Japan again in 1275. They were held for four months before being beheaded in Kamakura. Undeterred, in 1279 Kublai again sent more envoys. They fared no better and were executed on the beach at Hakata. Finally getting the hint that Japan had no intention of subjugating itself to the Mongols, Kublai ordered the king of Koryo (Korea) to build 1,000 ships for a second invasion. These were to join the captured Song fleet from Southern China and rendezvous off the coast of Kyushu for a joint attack. The newly-expanded Mongol Empire was now known as the Yuan and their appetite for expansion had not been sated. After taking control of Korea and subduing the Song the empire continued in its quest for control of more territory and more tributes from vassal states. Their quest mostly took them in a southerly direction to Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam, where success varied.

The second Mongolian invasion of Japan was like a sequel to a blockbuster movie bigger in scale, larger cast, bigger budget, and the same director (Kublai Khan). Some well-loved characters returned, with a few new twists in the tale but also a lot of similarities. Even the main locations were retained, and the ending was eerily similar. Attacking Japan again could have been attractive to Kublai for a number of reasons: popular theories include revenge for killing his ambassadors, an inability to accept failure, rumors of large amounts of gold in Japan (as recorded by Marco Polo: “…the King’s palace is roofed with pure gold, and his floors are paved in gold two fingers thick…”), or simply to increase the size and strength of the Mongolian forces army by forcing the samurai to join them.

The ships from Korea set sail on the 22nd of May 1281. Again figures vary wildly: some books suggest the total combined invasion force from Korea and Southern China numbered 100,000 men in 4,400 ships against 3,000 samurai. Others suggest 140,000 soldiers crammed onto 1,500 ships. These numbers, surely exaggerated to some degree (which would be of benefit for the propaganda of both the winners and losers) suggest that it was the largest sea invasion in the world until the Normandy landings in France in 1944 that led to Germany’s defeat in World War Two.

The fleet made the relatively short journey to Tsushima, and the Mongols and Koreans landed on the island on June 9th, for the second time in seven years. What followed was largely a repeat of the previous invasion. By June 14th they had taken the island and had moved on to the smaller island of Iki en route to the Kyushu coast after killing over 300 people on Tsushima.
This time the invaders lacked the element of surprise with their weapons and tactics, but once again they made short work of subduing Tsushima and Iki. The plan was then to wait for the larger force to arrive from Southern China, link up and invade Kyushu together.

Japan’s rulers had been expecting this invasion and had sent reinforcements from elsewhere and— equally importantly—they had built a defensive wall, the ‘Genkō Bōrui’ at Hakata to attempt to slow any invaders. Part of this twenty-kilometer long wall, the result of five years of labor, still exists today. In addition to these practical precautions the Emperor prayed to the gods to protect Japan.

For reasons that are unclear, rather than wait for reinforcements, the invaders pushed on and attacked the mainland. Small boats full of samurai, sent to attack and board the larger foreign ships, proved to be effective. A stalemate ensued for two months with the Mongols wanting to land, ideally with reinforcements, but being prevented by the samurai who were meanwhile unable to destroy all the ships and soldiers of the invaders.

Finally, the much-delayed Southern China fleet reached the coast of Kyushu. Allegedly there were as many as 100,000 men, who instead of attempting to land at Hakata Bay and face the defensive wall, targeted Imari Bay, around 45 km south, thinking they could take Dazaifu. Records from the time provide little concrete evidence of what happened next, beyond saying that a storm destroyed most of the fleet, or as popular legend puts it: “a green dragon raised its head from the waves.”

This would later become known as the famous kamikaze (divine wind). The storm eliminated an unknown number of invaders from the Mongol Empire who drowned as their ships sank estimates go up to 100,000 in total.

What happened next?

Many survivors who made it onshore were rounded up and beheaded 20-30,000 Mongolians and Koreans, according to the Yuan chronicle. Exceptions were made for the Song who were taken prisoner, since the Japanese felt some sympathy towards their former trading partners.
More recent archeological evidence together with reading of historical records suggests that the fleet was largely destroyed not due to the strength of the wind alone but also in combination with the poor construction of the Mongol ships that had been rushed to completion to meet unrealistic deadlines. This theory is backed up by the survival of pottery from the ships, suggesting that they sank slowly, rather than being torn apart in a violent storm.
Despite the failure of the second invasion Japan prepared to defend itself again and waited for a third attack that never happened. The Kamakura bakufu was financially damaged by the invasions, by making preparations for the expected third assault and by paying rewards to samurai deemed successful in stemming the invasions. This was partially responsible for the downfall of the bakufu.

From 1282 Kublai Khan’s health began to deteriorate, partly due to heavy drinking after the death of his favorite wife, Chabi. However, he still dreamed of a third invasion and planning began in 1284, only to be abruptly cancelled in 1286 due to financial constraints caused by tax revolts and another defeat in Dai Viet, now northern Vietnam, which turned back Mongolian invasions in 1282, 1285 and 1288.

In Vietnam, much like in Japan, victories against Kublai Khan’s massed forces are a large and important part of the national history. There too the number of invaders is surely inflated, going as high as half a million! Unlike Japan, Vietnam claimed that it was saved by a brilliant military strategist, Tran Hu’ung Dao, rather than by a storm summoned up by the Emperor. Another sea-borne Mongol invasion failed in Java in 1292. By 1294 Kublai Khan was dead and his empire was in decline. Less than a century later his Yuan dynasty was defeated by the Ming.

Impact of the invasions

It is difficult to overstate how important the two invasions are to Japan and their impact on the nation. Firstly, we have the physical reminders of the invasions including objects recovered from the sea, and remnants of the anti-Mongol wall. In Kamakura, one year after the second invasion, Engakuji was constructed to pray for the souls of all who were killed, including the invaders. Although the original buildings have been destroyed by fires, this huge complex still exists as one of the head temples of the Rinzai Zen sect.

Marco Polo learned of the invasions and thus the battles later became known in Europe as the West heard about Japan for the first time—in a fanciful tale of heroic Mongolian survivors seizing Japanese ships and taking the capital, which was then besieged by the samurai, culminating in Kublai’s pitiless execution of his generals for their incompetence. Interestingly, in Japan for the next few centuries knowledge of the historical events was limited to people in Kyushu. After 1636 Japan was cut off from the outside world for the duration of the sakoku period, and foreign ideas, including mention of the Mongolian invasions, were prohibited. In 1854 following the re-opening of Japan after the arrival of the ‘black ships’ interest was allowed again and later deliberately rekindled.

Japan’s government again feared foreign invasion and wished to show to the population that they were strong, brave and protected by the gods. To promote this idea from the middle of the nineteenth century until World War Two, songs, history books and works of art were produced. Amongst the better-known are woodblock prints by Kawanabe Kyosai from 1863 and the song ‘Genko no uta’ which is still popular more than a century later. Significantly, as previously mentioned, the invasions and the kamikaze were even featured on Japan’s original one yen note (printed by the Continental Bank Note Company of New York) in 1873.

In recent times the invasion has become better-known in the Western world, appearing in historical fiction, computer games (Shogun Total War: The Mongol Invasion, a best-selling PC game from Electronic Arts) and popular TV shows (for example Kublai Khan’s Lost Fleet, a 2003 National Geographic special that was reportedly seen by an estimated 200 million people around the world). However, the most enduring legacy is the kamikaze and the idea of Japan as a divinely protected nation capable of repelling foreign invaders no matter how many or how desperate the odds. This idea was revived famously at the end of World War Two with the “kamikaze” fighter pilots again trying to protect Southern Japan from a foreign invasion.

Further Reading
Historicizing the “Beyond”: The Mongolian Invasion as New Dimension of Violence? edited by Frank Kramer, Katharina Schmidt and Julika Singer
Khubilai Khan’s Lost Fleet: History’s Greatest Naval Disaster by James Delgado
The Mongol Invasions of Japan 1274 and 1281 by Stephen Turnbull
A History of Korea from Land of Morning Calm to States in Conflict by Jin Wung Kim
Mongol Invasions of Japan – 1274 and 1281 Bowdoin College (with interactive viewing of Takezaki Suenaga’s Scrolls of the Mongol Invasions of Japan)
Images from the Moko Shurai by Takezaki Suenaga in this article sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Mongol Invasion of Japan

The 13th century became a golden period for the Mongols. The nation which previously was not taken into account quickly transformed into an expansive empire that was able to conquer the surrounding territories. Not only the Middle East and Central Asia were targeted, but other Asian regions did not escape the Mongol invasion. After successfully conquering China and Korea, Japan became the target of an invasion of the Mongols. Twice attempts were made, but due to the misfortune and will of nature, Kublai Khan failed to conquer Japan.

Background of the Mongol Invasion into Japan
After Genghis Khan’s rule ended, the Mongols continued to expand their influence. In 1230, the Mongols succeeded in conquering northern China. A year ago they had crossed the Yalu River to expand their territory to the Korean Peninsula. The King of Korea (Koryo) is forced to be loyal to the Mongols, in return he can still rule as a vassal.

In 1259 Khubilai Khan, Genghis Khan’s grandson, ascended the Mongol throne and became Emperor of Yuan China. Khubilai Khan ruled until 1294. Following the tradition of the Chinese emperor, he tried to force neighboring countries to submit. In line with this tradition, which is rationalized by the irrational argument of “heavenly mission,”

Kublai sent envoys to Japan accompanied by Korean officers as guides. They brought a message to establish trade relations and appealed to the “King of Japan” to surrender or the whole country would be invaded (Sasaki, 2008: 25). The ambassadors planned their departure from the Korean port in 1267, but weather conditions at sea forced them to return to the peninsula.

After the failure of the first departure, Khubilai was still trying to send his ambassadors to Japan until 1274. However, all his efforts were in vain, because all his envoys were never permitted by Japan to enter Kyoto, the imperial capital, or Kamakura, the center of Bakufu (military government) .

In fact, in 1268 the envoys were detained in Dazaifu, the residence of the Western Defense Commissioner on the island of Kyushu. The Khan’s envoys were then moved to Kyoto, the residence of the Emperor and the court judge (Sansom, 1958: 400).

Fearing that the threat became real, the emperor tried to compromise by drawing up a draft to invite Khubilai to make peace. However, at that time the Emperor was only the symbolic ruler of the country, because the power was in the hands of Bakufu who was led by a military leader, Hojo Tokimune. Bakufu chose to disregard the imperial Draft and expel the Mongol envoys (Ibid .: 441).

In 1274, the Mongol emissary returned, but the military leader immediately ordered the deportation of the envoys as a form of humiliation against the Mongols. Such action means igniting the fires of war between the two parties. To anticipate the Mongol invasion, Bakufu then made various defense preparations.

War begins: First Mongol invasion 1274
To launch an invasion of Japan, Khubilai Khan needed ships and sailors (and soldiers). The Mongols are famous as land fighters who live in the savannah, arguably similar to Dothraki in the film Game of Thrones. They are not shipbuilders, they also do not have the knowledge and experience of shipping. Therefore, Khan ordered the King of Korea to build 900 fleets of warships and train his troops to be able to operate ships. (Sasaki, 2015: 25) Not only that, to supply the food supplies of his troops at sea, he also ordered large areas of the peninsula to be planted with rice.

In November 1274, a fleet of 40,000 people consisting of 20,000 Mongols and Chinese, 8,000 Korean soldiers, and around 7,000 Korean and Chinese seamen, departed from ports in Korea. The fleet used 300 large vessels and around 400-500 small vessels (Neuman: 1168).

The Kubilai fleet first invaded several small islands off the Kyushu coast destroying Japanese garrisons and then on November 19 landed at Hakata and Imazu in Kyushu. Armed with a large bow, Kublai Khan’s troops were able to dominate the battle against the samurai.

Even according to some contemporary records, the Mongols brought with them poisonous weapons and paper and iron bombs thrown through throwers (Turnbull, 2010: 45). This is the first time that Japan has faced such weapons, so it is not surprising that Japanese forces are pressured.

In the midst of the precarious situation, the Kyushu Army desperately defended its territory, hoping that reinforcements from the central and eastern provinces would soon arrive.

When the Mongol army had the upper hand, Korean weather navigators suddenly asked the Mongol Generals to raise their troops back on board. They had predicted the arrival of a storm that could isolate them on the island if it did not sail immediately. Hearing the warning, finally the Mongol Generals ordered their troops to board the ship and sail again. But the decision seems to be late, because the storm has raged and submerged some Mongol ships trying to return to mainland Korea (Delgado, 2008: 96).

On the other hand, a storm saved Japanese troops from being destroyed in Kyushu. In the afternoon they saw people from the enemy fleet coming out of the bay because their ship sank in the open sea during a storm. They were later arrested and taken to Mizuki to be executed.

According to some records, two hundred people were missing. While according to Korean records, about 13,000 people from the occupation forces lost their lives during this expedition, most of them probably drowned (Sansom, 1958: 444). The Mongol invasion had failed and the remnants of the Kublai army returned to Korea empty-handed.

For the sake of Ambition: Second Invasion 1281
Khubilai believes the cause of the failure of his first invasion of Japan was a storm. Therefore, he again sent an envoy to Japan in 1275. The messenger brought a message from Khublai that Japan surrender and submit to his empire. Instead of getting a positive response, they were detained for four months before being beheaded in Kamakura (Delgado, 2008: 100).

Kublai still did not give up, in 1279 he again sent more messengers. They were not fared better and were executed on the beach in Hakata. A series of executions of his envoys brought Kublai to the conclusion, that Japan did not intend to submit to the Mongol empire. After conquering South China, Kublai immediately ordered residents of the Yangtze area to build 600 warships and King Koryo (Korea) to build 900 ships for the second invasion.

In the autumn of 1280 Kublai Khan held a high-level conference in one of his palaces to discuss further strategies against Japan. Departing from a bad experience in 1274, he planned a more mature strategy to deal with the fierce resistance of Japanese troops, in Tsushima, Iki, and Hakata. The military and naval resources of the Southern Song dynasty are now fully under Mongol control, so that Khubilai Khan can build attacks from Korea and southern China with large troops (Turnbull, p. 55).

Six hundred warships were ordered from southern China, in addition to 900 from Korea. Plus an estimated 40,000 troops on the eastern route from Korea and 100,000 South China. At least the Mongol forces in the second invasion were three times more than the 1274 troops. Arguably, the second invasion of Mongolia to Japan was like the sequel to the blockbuster film bigger in scale, more players, bigger budget, and the same director (Kublai Khan).

The official order to attack Japan came out in the first month of 1281. The Eastern Route attack from Korea was carried out in a manner similar to the invasion of 1274. While the Yangzi troops would sail directly from southern China across 768 km (480 miles) of ocean to meet with the Eastern Route Army around Iki before joining for a massive landing on the Japanese mainland (Sasaki, 2015: 25).

Troops from Korea departed on May 22, 1281 according to plan, but it took longer to reach Tsushima than its predecessors in 1274. Tsushima was attacked on June 9 and Iki on June 14. Japanese troops led by Shoni Suketoki and Ryuzoji Suetoki were unable to withstand the onslaught of weapons of the Mongol army and they were killed in the raid.

The attack killed 300 residents. Some residents ran to escape to the mountains, but the Mongol soldiers who heard the children’s cries looking for them and eventually killed the residents hiding in the mountains. As previously planned, the Eastern Route Army is expected to wait for the Southern Route Army which is expected to arrive on July 2 in Iki.

On the other hand, armed with experience from the attacks of 1274, Japanese troops have built Genkō Bōrui’s defensive wall along the ship landing zone at Hakata. The wall was built for five years and has a length of about 20 kilometers.

In spring, the Eastern Route Forces had arrived at the meeting point, but the Southern troops were late to arrive at the specified date. However, troops from Korea seemed impatient to wait for the arrival of South Chinese troops, so a week before the planned meeting of the Southern and Eastern Mongol forces, the Commander of the Eastern Ruten Force instead decided to attack first (Sansom, 1958: 449). The attack did not make it easy for them to land, but instead broke the concentration of the troops.

The Japanese responded by sending a small boat full of samurai to attack and board the larger enemy ship. This strategy proved effective in preventing the Mongols from landing (Yamada, 1916: 185).

For weeks the Mongols had difficulty landing. This condition caused them frustration and eventually retreated to Iki island.

In mid-July, the Southern fleet arrived. The two fleets then joined forces to attack Hirado in early August and continued the attack on Takashima located on the northwest coast of Kyushu on August 12 (Turnbull, 2010: 70).

Fierce fighting raged for several weeks. The length of the siege caused the Mongol army to run low on food reserves. On the other hand, the war coincided with the hurricane season which could come at any time.

On August 14, a typhoon known to the Japanese population as Kamikaze (wind of the gods) struck the Mongol fleet on the coastline. It is not known exactly what happened to the Mongol fleet, but according to the Chronicles Yuan about 20,000-30,000 Mongol and Korean troops who survived the storm were captured and beheaded. While the Southern Song fleet which was once a Japanese business partner is still forgiven and only jailed.

More recent archaeological evidence shows that the fleet was largely destroyed not because of the strength of the wind alone, but also because of poor ship construction (Ibid: 78). This makes sense considering the Mongol warships were made in a hurry and in a short time.

The news of the withdrawal of the Mongols until finally arrived at the Japanese government on September 23, 1281. This victory was celebrated in the Iwashimizu temple as a form of gratitude to the gods. Japan’s success in surviving surpassed everyone’s expectations, so the story of kamikaze has been passed down until now.

On the other hand, Kublai Khan actually still wanted to make a third attempt, but his soldiers had experienced fatigue due to the failure of the two invasions. Finally he chose to focus on taking care of domestic problems which at that time were in chaos (Sansom, 1958: 450).

The Mongol Invasions of Japan 1274 and 1281 |

The two attempts by Khubilai Khan, the Mongol Emperor of China, to invade Japan in 1274 and 1281 represent unique events in the history of both countries. It pitted the samurai of Japan against the fierce warriors of the steppes who had conquered half the known world.

The Mongol conquest of Korea left them with a considerable quantity of maritime resources, which enabled them to thin seriously for the first time about crossing the Tsushima strait between Korea and Japan with an army of invasion. The first invasion, which began with savage raiding on the islands of Tsushima and Iki, made a landfall at Hakata Bay and forced the samurai defenders back inland. Luckily for the Japanese defenders, a storm scattered the Mongol invasion fleet, leading them to abandon this attempt.

In the intervening years the Japanese made defensive preparation, and the Mongol increased their fleet and army, so that the second invasion involved one of the largest seaborne expeditions in world history up to that time. This attempt was aimed at the same landing site, Hakata Bay, and met stiffer opposition form the new defences and the aggressive Japanese defenders. Forced buy a series of major Japanese raids to stay in their ships at anchor, the Mongol fleet was obliterated by a typhoon - the kami kaze (divine wind) - for the loss of as many as 90 per cent of the invaders. Although further preparations were made for an assault by the Mongols at the end of the 13ht and beginning of the 14th centuries, this proved to be the last realistic threat of an invasion of the home islands till 1945.

  • Autorius:Stephen Turnbull
  • Leidėjas:OSPREY PUB INC
  • Metai: 201001
  • Puslapiai: 96
  • ISBN-10: 1846034566
  • ISBN-13: 9781846034565
  • Formatas: 18.3 x 24.6 x 1.3 cm, minkšti viršeliai
  • Kalba: Anglų

The two attempts by Khubilai Khan, the Mongol Emperor of China, to invade Japan in 1274 and 1281 represent unique events in the history of both countries. It pitted the samurai of Japan against the fierce warriors of the steppes who had conquered half the known world.

The Mongol conquest of Korea left them with a considerable quantity of maritime resources, which enabled them to thin seriously for the first time about crossing the Tsushima strait between Korea and Japan with an army of invasion. The first invasion, which began with savage raiding on the islands of Tsushima and Iki, made a landfall at Hakata Bay and forced the samurai defenders back inland. Luckily for the Japanese defenders, a storm scattered the Mongol invasion fleet, leading them to abandon this attempt.

In the intervening years the Japanese made defensive preparation, and the Mongol increased their fleet and army, so that the second invasion involved one of the largest seaborne expeditions in world history up to that time. This attempt was aimed at the same landing site, Hakata Bay, and met stiffer opposition form the new defences and the aggressive Japanese defenders. Forced buy a series of major Japanese raids to stay in their ships at anchor, the Mongol fleet was obliterated by a typhoon - the kami kaze (divine wind) - for the loss of as many as 90 per cent of the invaders. Although further preparations were made for an assault by the Mongols at the end of the 13ht and beginning of the 14th centuries, this proved to be the last realistic threat of an invasion of the home islands till 1945.

Learn More About the History Behind Ghost of Tsushima (Updated)

Sucker Punch‘s Ghost of Tsushima will debut on July 17, 2020, but it’s heir to a long and illustrious tradition of samurai-themed video games. Though hundreds of titles in that vein have been released over the years, this one has a chance to stand out, and not just because it’s a lavishly produced open-world title and possibly one of the last major PS4 releases before the PS5 debuts. Ghost of Tsushima has a chance to make its mark thanks to its setting, which covers a period of samurai history that gets comparatively little pop-cultural attention: The Mongol invasions of Japan.

Ghost of Tsushima‘s Mongol Invasions

The Mongol Invasions were a pair of attempts by the Mongol Empire of the 13th century to subjugate Japan. Both times, the Mongol armies attacked and sacked Tsushima island, a trading hub located almost exactly between the Japanese main islands and the Korean peninsula. The first invasion, which took place in 1274, forms the basis of the events of Ghost of Tsushima. The invasions’ significance in Japanese history can’t be understated: They marked one of the only times in recorded history that Japan defended itself against a foreign invasion, as well as one of the few times a samurai army would go to war against a non-samurai foe.

Like most wars, the Mongol Invasions stemmed from a failure of diplomacy. Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan and ruler of Mongol Empire, was still in the midst of conquering China, as his Yuan Dynasty was warring against the southern Song Dynasty. Japan, through the ruling Kamakura Shogunate, maintained diplomatic and economic ties to the Song, a fact that was not lost on the Great Khan. He sent envoys, demanding Japan become a vassal of the Yuan instead, and when the Shogun rejected the offer, he ordered his vassals in Korea (then known as Goryeo) to build ships and supply soldiers for an invasion.

(Picture credit: The Samurai Sourcebook, Stephen Turnbull 1998)

The Great Khan sallies forth

A massive fleet of 900 ships carrying an army of over 40,000 Mongol, Han Chinese, Korean, and Jurchen troops set sail from Happo, (a port city near modern-day Busan, South Korea) and crossed the straits. The invasion fleet’s first stop was Tsushima island, ruled by the Sou clan. The clan leader, Sukekuni Sou, met the landing Mongols near Komodahama with a force of eighty mounted samurai and an unspecified number of foot soldiers. They were quickly overwhelmed and killed. Since Ghost of Tsushima‘s main character Jin Sakai is reportedly the sole survivor of a “massacre” at the game’s outset, this battle might have served as the inspiration for that moment.

Beyond Sukekuni’s last stand, most of the widely available records focus more on the Mongol landings at Hakata than on Tsushima. Most note only that the Mongols ravaged Tsushima (and the neighboring island of Iki) for a couple of weeks before moving on to land at Hakata bay (near modern-day Fukuoka city) to face forces assembled by the local lords under the shogun’s orders. Even the Though the residents of Tsushima and Iki would likely disagree, to historians of the time the sacking of those islands was something of a footnote, a prelude to the “main event” that was the invasion proper. However, it’s safe to conclude that the brief occupation was not peaceful: The Korean Goryeosa historical document notes that the Mongol army (which included many Korean troops) killed a large number of people on the island. Members of the Sou clan would survive to rebuild, though, and the Sou would go on to become prominent intermediaries in Japan-Korea relations, all the way up to the Meiji Restoration in the 19th century.

(Picture Credit: Komoda Shrine, Tsushima via The Mongol Invasions of Japan 1274 and 1281, Stephen Turnbull 2010 )

On landing at Hakata, the Mongol army faced resistance from samurai commanded by Tsunetsugu Dazai Shouni, the regional governor. The Mongols’ numbers, technological advantages, and combat experience put the Japanese forces on the back foot, and by nightfall, the invaders had made far enough inland to threaten Dazaifu, the regional capital. However, the Mongols declined to press their advantage. According to the Yuan Shi , a Yuan Dynasty record, mounting fatigue, potential Japanese reinforcements, and the injury of Liu Fuxiang, a senior Mongol commander, prompted the Mongols to reconsider pushing forward. After burning the town of Hakata, they conducted a tactical withdrawal, choosing to spend the night on their ships before sailing back to Korea. Fortune favored Japan further. Overnight, a fierce storm developed, dashing many ships on the rocks and killing almost one-third of the Mongol army. This, and a storm that would later impact the second invasion in 1281, helped reinforce the notion of the kamikaze , a divine wind that protects Japan.

(Picture credit: Mouko Shurai Ekotoba, Museum of Imperial Collections)

The impact of the Mongol attacks

The Mongol Invasions had a lasting effect on samurai history, not least for the initial shock the Mongol approach to combat delivered to the defending samurai. According to the Hachiman Gudoukun, a “pop history” of the time that contained records of the invasion, the Mongol armies advanced in dense formations, throwing loud explosives and defended by wooden shields. By comparison, samurai warfare of the time was practically genteel, opened by single combats and archery duels between elite warriors on both sides. Samurai would step forward to declare their names and achievements, calling for a worthy adversary from the opposing side. This time, though, the samurais’ foes couldn’t speak Japanese, much less honor the rituals of samurai warfare that had gone largely unchanged since the 10th century. The samurai would be forced to change to match an unfamiliar foe, and this changing of tradition to adapt to a new status quo is, in a way, reflected in Jin’s transition from “samurai” to the titular “ghost” of Ghost of Tsushima.

The Changing Way of the Samurai

The changes to samurai doctrine extend to more than just tactics. Ghost of Tsushima shows Jin Sakai using a classical Japanese katana in combat, but in reality, this is something of an anachronism. The design of the “Sakai blade” shown in the game would only have been in its earliest stages of development at the time of the Mongols’ arrival at Tsushima.

13th-century samurai were much more likely to use the tachi, an earlier form of the Japanese sword. Reflecting the role of a samurai as a mounted warrior at the time, tachi were cavalry swords, with a more pronounced curve in their blade, ideal for slashing downward from a saddle. Tachi were slung on the armor with their edges pointed down, making them easier to draw while on horseback.

Ironically, it would be the Mongol invasions themselves that would spur development of samurai swords in the direction of the katana. Tachi-wielding samurai encountered difficulty fighting Mongol soldiers on foot. They couldn’t cut through the enemy’s hardened leather armor without their blades chipping and breaking. To accommodate the changing conditions of close combat, the tachi evolved into the katana. Its blade was slightly shorter and less curved, making it more suitable to stabbing as well as slashing attacks in close quarters while on foot. Rather than being hung, katana were secured with a special sash around the waist, with their edge pointing up, allowing a skilled samurai to draw the sword and cut an enemy in a single smooth motion.

Sucker Punch itself has confirmed it’s aware of this historical inconsistency, admitting that some equipment and techniques will appear a bit “out of time,” added in service of bringing that more popular image of samurai as expert swordsmen to life. The vagueness in records surrounding what actually happened on Tsushima in those days is a convenient excuse for this sort of creative liberty-taking. Sucker Punch and other creators with stories can then claim they don’t have to worry too much about contradicting historical details.

For what it’s worth, trailers for Ghost of Tsushima do show Jin wearing more period-accurate armor. Some of his armor shows off the large, flat shoulder plates distinctive of the Heian and Kamakura eras of armor design. The shoulder plates were ideal for defending against arrows, in keeping with the samurai specialty of accurate marksmanship. Later armor from the sengoku period would shrink the plates on the shoulders for greater flexibility, and add thicker torso protection, thanks to the increasing spread of firearms in the 16th century.

Regardless, it’ll be interesting to see what other details and research Sucker Punch chooses to incorporate in Ghost of Tsushima, and what other liberties it chooses to take.

Additional Material

Though accessible media surrounding Tsushima and the Mongol Invasions is uncommon compared to other samurai periods, it does exist. If you’re interested in seeing more, consider checking this stuff out:

(Picture credit: The Mongol Invasions of Japan 1274 and 1281, Richard Hook 2010)

The Mongol Invasions of Japan 1274 and 1281 Part of the Campaign series of military mini-histories and written by author Stephen Turnbull, this book provides an easily accessed single-volume account of both invasions, bringing information from sources on both sides of the conflict. The book is available on Amazon and via Osprey Publishing.

Total War: Shogun 2 – Rise of the Samurai– UK-based studio The Creative Assembly outdid themselves when they revisited the Japanese setting for their 2011 strategy game, crafting an evocative picture of Sengoku-era Japan. But the game’s Rise of the Samurai expansion turns the clock back even further, to the 11th-century Gempei Wars, the wars that helped form the very idea of the samurai in the first place. The game is available on PC via Steam.

Angolmois: Record of Mongol Invasion – This anime series might be the most recent, relevant, and accessible work available to anyone interested in reading more about Tsushima. Based on a manga by Nakahiro Takagi, Angolmois is quite literally a story about what happened when the Mongols attacked Tsushima in 1274. Heavily fictionalized, it plays off a folk legend of an “army” of exiles and criminals who were believed to have aided the Sou clan’s warriors in resisting the Mongol occupation. In a sense, the ragtag fighters pull their own Ghost of Tsushima moment, using guerrilla tactics and subterfuge to undermine the numerically superior invaders. Angolmois is streaming on Ani-One and Crunchyroll .

13 Assassins and Zatoichi While Ghost of Tsushima clearly aims to evoke classic samurai films with its “samurai cinema” visual modes, I’d bet the full-color work of Takeshi Miike lives closer to the game’s heart. The ultraviolence of 13 Assassins and deliberate, stylized anachronisms of Zatoichi capture the same spirit as Sucker Punch’s game seems to aim for: History as a mood, rather than a dry record of events.

Nichiren and the Great Mongol Invasion – This 1958 film by Kunio Watanabe focuses on the adventures of Nichiren, a legendary Buddhist priest and founder of his own sect of Buddhism. While the film itself is focused more on morality plays and Nichiren himself, it does capture the sense of crisis that surely accompanied news that Japan was about to be invaded by the world superpower of the time.

Ghost of Tsushima will be released for the PS4 on July 17, 2020.

[Editor’s Note: Additional sources and details were added covering the Mongol landings at Hakata and the end of the initial invasion. Language was clarified in one point so as not to sound authoritative or suggest no records exist, as well as more clearly note that creators taking liberties with historical detail or appropriation could then claim this as an excuse, rather than the absence of detail excusing inaccuracies.]

Kublai Khan`s Lost Fleet. Koan War (2nd Mongol Invasion of Japan, 1281)

This article will discuss the contribution of Kublai Khan`s lost fleet maritime archaeological site to our understanding of the Mongol invasion force of 1281. The site is located in Imari Bay, which is in the north west of Kyushu, approximately 48km from Fukuoka. The site was found and first excavated in the early 1980s by Professor Torao Mozai. Later in the 1990s a second excavation was carried out, led by marine archaeologist Kenzo Hayashida which continued until the early 2000s. From these excavations and subsequent analysis of the artefacts together with scholarly research we can learn a lot about the history of the Japan Sea, Mongols, Chinese, Korean and Japanese seafarers. Respected marine archaeologist and author of, Kublai Khan`s Lost Fleet, James Delgado joined the excavations at Imari Bay in the early 2000s and at the time of writing this essay, has the most up to date information. (Ed. Just to note though, I wrote this essay about 10 years ago and I had limited knowledge about the Mongol invasions and few resource materials) I was only able to find a few articles, one published in a National Geographic magazine written by Mozai, and a few written by Delgado relating to the excavation of the lost Mongolian fleet and there does not seem to be many journal articles or books written specifically to the marine archaeology of this site. Jeremy Green`s review of James Delgado’s book also comments on the lack of information relating to this topic and how the book relates to marine archaeology, if it does at all.

In an analysis of the Japanese site, it is important to discuss the role of the Sung Dynasty and its navy because the wreck site itself has proved to contain many Sung Dynasty vessels which were used by the southern Mongol force in the attempted invasion. The Mongols themselves never had a navy and the two invasions, first in 1274 and second in 1281, were the first time the Mongols attempted a seaborne attack. From archaeological evidence of the site, we know that the ships were Chinese made by the Sung Dynasty and Randall Sasaki, a Texas A&M University graduate who joined Hayashida’s team during the excavation, believes the ships found, were at the epitome of Sung naval ship construction in the 13 th century. We also know that the Japanese, although not having a navy were able to use modified fishing boats and turn them into small coastal fireships and also used them as boarding vessels which harassed the invading fleet while anchored in Imari Bay.

Wall built by samurai of Higo (Kumamoto) before the second invasion. This is where the samurai drove off the Mongol attackers. Matsubara, Fukuoka.

Early archaeological excavations were carried out in the 1920s on the ancient defensive wall at Hakata Bay, built between the first and second Mongol invasions, but very little was known about the fate of the lost fleet. Much later, Mozai conducted some research on the lost fleet but it was not until 1981 that a serious effort was made to undertake a systematic survey and excavation of the Takashima area thought to be where the fleet was lost. Mozai first visited shrines situated around Hakata Bay in Fukuoka City that are dedicated to the victory over the Mongols and then he visited the Tokyo Museum Imperial Collections where he found a late 13th century scroll that depicts a samurai warrior Takezaki Suenaga fighting against the Mongols. The search had begun.

Samurai Takezaki Suenaga and the 13th century scroll at the Iki no Matsubara site.

Long before archaeological excavations officially started, local fishermen in and around Imari Bay for years had brought up strange artefacts in their nets while fishing, which they suspected had been from the Mongol invasions. Mozai first went to speak to some of these fishermen and was left speechless after being shown earthenware ceramics and pots that they had collected over the years. On 14 December 1980 the New York Times reported that the lost fleet of Kublai Khan had been found. Mozai explained to the New York Times that there are at least 70 wooden hulks that had been found by sonar and that they were sitting in about 1.8m of mud in 24m of water. He also explained how divers on the site retrieved a sword, stone implements and a bronze statue. Delgado confirms that among these artefacts were two important pieces that could be traced to the lost Mongol invasion fleet – a bronze Buddha and an inscribed bronze seal that had belonged to a Mongol general, shown below.

Kamakura period, ca. 720 years ago.
(Stamp plate dimensions) Length of each side: 4.5 cm thickness: 1.5 cm.
Made of bronze. This seal was found on the coast at Kōzaki in 1974. On the back side of the stamp plate is an inscription to the right of the grip, naming a military rank equivalent to a company commander, and another to the left of the grip giving the date of commission as the ninth month of 1277. ‘Phags-pa script was an alphabet which Yuan dynasty founder Kublai Khan ordered the Tibetan Lama Pagba to devise, and was used for official items such as documents and seals. It was used very little after the collapse of the Yuan.

When Kublai Khan became the leader of the Mongol Empire in 1260 the empire stretched from Europe to Asia. The only Asian territories not subjugated at that time were Korea and Southern China to which the Mongols quickly moved. The Sung Empire in Southern China was the leader of seafaring and had the most powerful navy in the world. Khan and the Mongol forces campaigned in Korea and China taking control of the Sung navy with Sung defectors and eventually defeated the Sung Emperor in 1279. In July of the same year a Chinese refugee arrived in Japan warning the Japanese of the fall of the Sung dynasty and that the new Mongol rulers had established the Yuan Dynasty and once again had its sights on Japan. Further expansion across the sea to Japan was now made possible with the Khan’s acquisition of the Sung navy and manpower. Khan established a new government office called the Ministry for Conquering Japan and ordered the Southern Chinese of the Yangtze River to build 900 ships. Khan decided on the first month of 1281 for the next invasion of Japan.

1281 invasion routes according to Hakkutsu sareta retto 2012, Agency for Cultural Affairs.

The sea lanes between Korea and Japan that had been used for centuries for trade and piracy now became sea lanes for invasion. There were two fleets consisting of an eastern division from Korea and a southern division from China. The Eastern division consisted of 10,000 Koreans and 30, 000 Mongols, 900 ships and 17,000 crew which left from Happo in Goryeo (now Masan near Busan) on May 22nd, commanded by Mongol General Hong Dagu and Korean General Kim Bang-gyong.

The southern Chinese division was the main invasion force, leaving from Qingyuan (modern Ningbo) at the beginning of July. The southern division consisted of 100,000 Sung soldiers and 2,600 warships commanded by Chinese Fan Wenhu and overall invasion commander Mongol General Arakhan. But from the outset the invasion was doomed to fail. Lets see why.

The Eastern division was much more prepared and eager to get going than the main invasion force in China. It seems that the Chinese were still struggling to assemble the number of ships and morale was running low due to many years of war. There was also underlying competition between the Mongol commanders which plays out during the invasion.

The Korean fleet attacked Tsushima on 9th June and Iki on the 14th. Now according to different sources, both fleets were to meet at either Iki or Hirado and then make make a combined attack on Hakata. I will assume the meeting point was Iki for this essay. The southern fleet was expected at Iki by the 2nd July. However, ignoring orders to wait, the Korean force left Iki and headed to Hakata. However, for some unknown reason, on the way, a detachment of 300 ships, which was a third of the Korean force, was sent off to attack the Nagato region, now Yamaguchi and made their attacks on 25th June. Little is known about these attacks, and to be honest, we are left scratching our heads why this decision was made. It reduced manpower even more, for the Hakata attacks. The only way the invasion had any chance of success was with a full force, and for now, the Mongols attacked Hakata with only about 26,000 troops instead of a possible full force of 140,000 men. Of course we can look in hindsight but the Mongol commanders also knew that the Japanese had built a wall and that the samurai were waiting for them. Was it arrogance, stupidity or was general Dong Dagu aiming for fame over his compatriot? We may never know.

In the meantime the main force arrived in Hakata, on the western side of Hakata Bay, pictured above, and the invasion began on 23rd June. Now, the Japanese had been ready for an invasion since about spring of 1280. Samurai had erected a wall, at least 1.8m high, and earth ramparts were built behind the wall that the archers could stand on which enables them to fire at the attackers without exposing themselves to enemy fire. The Japanese forced the invaders into close quarters fighting, between the wall and the ocean which was not how the Mongols usually fought. Mongol cavalry was the best in the world but needed space to be able to harass and charge at the enemy. The stern Japanese defence resulted in the Mongols not being able to make a landing, even after 50 days of fighting, so instead retreated to Shikanoshima and Nokonoshima, two small islands in Hakata Bay. The Japanese defenders, then turned attackers and chased the Mongols. The Japanese used small coastal ships to attack, harass and board the enemy ships. Samurai warriors who were much more accustomed to close quarters fighting managed to climb aboard the enemy ships and do a great deal of damage killing the ships crews and soldiers. After nearly two months of fighting the attackers, tired and with morale very low, the Mongol commander decided to give up on Hakata, retreat back to Iki, and go look for the main Chinese force.

The defeated Eastern force finally met up with the southern Chinese fleet at the beginning of July. Some say they met up at Iki as ordered, but other accounts say they met around Takashima, which makes sense. Also, at this point it is unclear whether the Mongol combined forces planned to land and attack in the Imari bay area as Delgado suggests in his article or whether they were on their way back to Hakata Bay as Ishii suggests. I will assume that news from the Eastern army of the fortified wall and heavy resistance experienced just weeks before at Hakata Bay was enough of a sign for them to find an alternate landing place. Therefore, the Mongol fleet arrived at Imari Bay near Takashima Island and on the 1 st July where they prepared for their final combined invasion.

The southern fleet was primarily made up of Chinese junks that were used by the Sung Dynasty for trade throughout South Eastern Asia. Wooden artefacts believed to be from the sunken ships found at the site have enabled Japanese archaeologists to make computer simulated ships that may have been used in the invasion force. Image below from Kosuwa.

The majority of Chinese and Japanese coastal vessels used in this conflict were primarily suited to short coastal voyages in and around the Japan Sea and the Japanese Archipelago. There were a few bigger ships that resemble ocean going vessels, but the majority were smaller vessels. It is thought from the artefacts gathered at the Takashima site that the ships were shallow hulled, 2 mast vessels. They were made from Chinese oak and pine identifying their place of manufacture and were designed to carry a lot of soldiers and horses and were equipped with watertight bulkheads, a rudder, an anchor, a compass and explosive projectiles chests. The discovery of an intact anchor at the site gives a greater understanding of ocean and sea conditions this fleet was expected to face. One would assume a heavier sea and swell would require the need for a larger and sturdier anchor. The anchor found at the bottom of the harbour was small and light in weight and inferior to the known Chinese anchors of the time. Delgado notes that the usual single large granite weight usually found on Sung ship anchors were not used and that the anchor as shown above was crudely made with 2 smaller granite stones and a short stock which did not have the strength to hold the ships at anchor when the typhoon passed through and the sea smashed them against each other. This also raises a couple of questions. Were the Chinese short of materials to build a sturdy fleet and were the ships built in a hurry that neglected seaworthiness.

One of the most important finds on the site were those of the ceramic bombs. I would like to believe this invasion force was the first ocean going invasion that used gunpower and projectile weapons in human history.

If it is, it is definitely a turning point for human warfare in the relation to seaborne assaults. The 13th century scrolls that I mentioned earlier depict Mongol warriors throwing these hand bombs at Japanese defenders, exploding in mid air. X-rays on these artefacts reveal some of these weapons to be loaded with gunpowder and other loaded with gunpowder and bits of metal shrapnel.

On the eve of their final invasion and after weeks of constant attacks by the Japanese the Mongol generals decided to chain their ships together to form a huge floating fortress to thwart the Japanese coastal fire vessels and samurai hit and run attacks which although small on the scale compared to the Mongol fleet were enough to keep them busy while they prepared for the invasion. Wooden ship fragments which have survived over 700 years below the surface of the sea still show deep scaring and scorching which prove the fleet had suffered fire damage either by the Japanese attacks, or that the ships caught fire during the course of the typhoon. Fires may have also been ignited by blacksmith forges that the Mongols used on the ships to make and repair metal objects such as horse shoes, armour and weapons. Many bricks were found by Mozai in his first excavation of the site which he believes may have been used to make the portable forges.

The gods answered the prayers of the Shinto priests who had been performing elaborate ceremonies on behalf of the defending Japanese. A great “Divine Wind” (typhoon) hit Kyushu and the Imari Bay area. As the typhoon began to intensify throughout the day the fleet unchained themselves from each other and made for the open sea. Mongol lack of knowledge with the sea may have contributed to what appears to be a slow response to the coming storm. The typhoon hit quickly with high winds, driving rain and heavy seas. But due to the mass of ships floating in the bay, most were unable to escape and they began to smash into each other and those that did not hit other ships were driven against the coastline. The storm was strong enough to destroy the Mongol fleet causing the loss of over 4000 ships and an estimated 100,000 dead soldiers.

The New Yorks Times ran a second story on 30 August 1981, a year after the first story which broke the news of Mozai finding the lost fleet. More artefacts brought up from the bottom confirmed what Mozai had hoped and this story published by the New York Times shows the progress of the excavation and how successful it is. The expedition in less than a year uncovering enormous numbers of artifacts and proving that the discovery is the most important ever found in Japanese waters. Mozai explains that a team of 20 divers have brought up enough pottery and weaponry to fill 10 large suitcases. Also found were 145 fragments of what are believed to be vases, some of which were used to mix and store gunpowder.

For 700 years the sea and a whole lot of mud had kept a secret. Hundreds of ships, weapons, pots, bowls, vases, and human remains lay in 1.8m of ocean floor silt. Archaeologists dug through the mud of Imari Bay to find the seabed scattered with the remnants of the Mongol lost fleet. It was and is the biggest invasion force ever assembled before the Normandy invasion during World War 2. By the 13th century the Sung Dynasty had amassed a huge and powerful navy protecting the trade lanes that stretched from the Indian Ocean, the Yellow Sea and all through Asia. The Mongol conquest of the Sung gave them the the means to attempt another invasion on their old foe and the Japanese archipelago. However, the marine archaeological site of Kublai`s lost fleet in Imari Bay has shown that even the best invasion force can be defeated by nature and lost to history.

Delgado, J. 2003. Relics of the Kamikaze. Archaeology. 56 (1), Archaeological Institute of America.

Delgado, J. 2003. Shooting down the Kamikaze myth. Naval History, 17(3), pp. 36-41.

Delgado, J. 2011. Kublai Khan VS Kamikaze, Military History, 28 (2), Academic Research Library

Delgado, J. 2008. Khubilai Khan`s Lost Fleet. University of California Press.

Green, J. 2010. Review of the book Kublai Khan’s Lost Fleet by James Delgado, International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, 39 (1)

Ishii, S. 1995. The Decline of the Kamakura Bakufu. In Jansen, M (ed.), Warrior Rule in Japan. pp. 44-76. New York, Cambridge University Press.

Mozai, T. 1982. The Lost Fleet of Kublai Khan, National Geographic, 162, pp. 635-649

Turnbull, Stephen. 2010. The Mongol Invasions of Japan 1274 and 1281. Osprey.

Yamada, Nakaba. 2012. Ghenko. The Mongol Invasion of Japan 1274 – 81. Leonaur.

Own photos and artefact photos courtesy of the Japanese archaeology association.

Military significance

From a military perspective, the failed invasions of Kublai Khan were the first of only two instances (the other being the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592 ) when the samurai fought foreign troops rather than amongst themselves. It is also the first time samurai clans fought for the sake of Japan itself instead of for more narrowly defined clan interests. The invasions also exposed the Japanese to an alien fighting style which, lacking the single combat that characterized traditional samurai combat, they saw as inferior. This difference is noted in the Hachiman Gudōkun:

The Mongol method of advances and withdrawals accompanied by bells, drums and war cries was also unknown in Japan, as was the technique of Mongolian archers, which involved shooting arrows en masse into the air rather than long-ranged one-on-one combat. The Zen Buddhism of Hojo Tokimune and his Zen master Bukko had gained credibility beyond national boundaries, and the first mass followings of Zen teachings among samurai began to flourish.

The failed invasions also mark the first use of the word kamikaze ("Divine Wind"). They also perpetuated the Japanese belief that they could not be defeated, which remained an important aspect of Japanese foreign policy until the end of the Second World War. The failed invasions also demonstrated a weakness of the Mongols - the inability to mount naval invasions successfully. (See also Mongol invasions of Vietnam). After the death of Kublai, his successor, Temür Öljeytü, unsuccessfully demanded the submission of Japan in 1295.

The Mongols and the Ashikaga shogunate of Japan made peace in the late 14th century during the reign of Toghun Temür, the last Yuan emperor in Dadu. Long before the peace agreement, there was stable trade in East Asia under the dominance of the Mongols and Japan.

As a consequence of the destruction of the Mongol fleets, Japan's independence was guaranteed. Simultaneously, a power struggle within Japan led to the dominance of military governments and diminishing Imperial power. [ 11 ]

Technological significance

The Mongol invasions are an early example of gunpowder warfare. One of the most notable technological innovations during the war was the use of explosive bombs. [ 2 ] The bombs are known in Chinese as "thunder crash bombs" and were fired from catapults, inflicting damage on enemy soldiers. An illustration of a bomb is depicted in a Japanese scroll, showing their use by the Mongols against mounted samurai. Archaeological evidence of the use of gunpowder was finally confirmed when multiple shells of the explosive bombs were discovered in an underwater shipwreck off the shore of Japan by the Kyushu Okinawa Society for Underwater Archaeology. X-rays by Japanese scientists of the excavated shells provided proof that they contained gunpowder. [ 12 ]

Watch the video: Mongols: Invasions of Japan 1274 and 1281 DOCUMENTARY


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