Battle of Xiangyang

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Plantilla:Infobox Military Conflict Plantilla:Campaignbox Mongol invasions The Battle of Xiangyang (襄陽之戰) was a six-year battle between invading Mongol armies and Southern Song forces between AD 1267 and 1273. After the battle, the victorious Mongols pushed farther into the Song heartland. Previously for 30 years, the Song Empire managed to handle several major offensives by the Mongols. The strategic significance of Xiangyang came from the fact that it is in a position dominating the Han river. Once the Mongols occupied Xiangyang, they could travel by ships down the Han river into the Yangtze river. After the Battle of Xiangyang, the Song dynasty did not enjoy the protection of natural barriers any more and so it collapsed in just a few years. The final battle was the relatively short naval Battle of Yamen in 1279. Thus this battle was decisive.

The battle consisted of skirmishes, ground assault, and the siege of the twin fortified cities of Fancheng and Xiangyang in modern-day Hubei, China. Lü Wenhuan, commander-in-chief of the Southern Song Dynasty, surrendered to Kublai Khan in 1273. The conventional use of Mongolian cavalry was restricted by the woody terrain and numerous military outposts of the Southern Song Dynasty. Chinese firearms and cannons were employed by the Mongols in the victorious siege of Fancheng after capturing the outposts and relieving Chinese forces from Sichuan and Yuezhou, which broke through the siege but was eventually defeated. Especially effective proved the use of the counterweight trebuchet by the Mongols, as the ancient traction trebuchet was the only one known in China beforehand.

Background Editar

The Yuan army, at this period, had launched military campaigns as far as Eastern Europe, and had conquered Kievan Rus. However, Song Dynasty China was difficult to conquer because of the strategic location of Xiangyang, hence a vital position for Kublai to capture and hold. The city guarded the waterways of Southern China because the Han River was a major tributary into the Yangtze River. Once the city fell, the Mongols obtained easy access into important Southern cities in China and the Southern Song would collapse shortly after.

However, taking Xiangyang was not easy. Southern Song knew the importance of this vital spot, and treated the defence of Xiangyang as important as defence of their capital. The city was surrounded by mountains on three sides, and a river (Han river) on one side. Song stored massive amount of supplies inside the fortress, as preparation for long sieges. They also built high walls and towers on all four sides of the fortress. Each entrance of the fortress had at least two layers of walls, used to trap enemy sieging forces inside.

In 1133, the famous Song general Yue Fei led many successful campaigns against the Jin Dynasty, in the Xiangyang area. From there, he pushed the Jin army back north as far as Kaifeng. In 1234, the Jin Empire was conquered by the Mongols under the leadership of Ogedei. At that time, Mongols and the Southern Song dynasty were allies. After that, the two former allies did not have any common enemy. The Mongols set their eyes on Song.

In 1260, Kublai Khan started his rule after the death of his brother Mongke. A civil war began between him and his youngest brother but Kublai Khan won. In 1271, the Mongols under Kublai Khan adopted the dynasty name of "Yuan". After defeating his rivals and opponents in Mongolia and Northern China, Kublai Khan wanted to conquer Southern China also.

In 1267, the Mongols attacked Xiangyang, and the Mongols suffered a major defeat. The famous Mongolian cavalry were powerful on open field battles, but in Xiangyang they were slaughtered by the Song defenders. Every time, Yuan forces would seem to have won, and enter the entrance of the fortress. But once inside, the Yuan forces would be slaughtered to the last man, while trapped between 4 walls. It took the Yuan forces a while to realize what was going on, and they retreated.

However, the defeat did not change the situation. Yuan must take Xiangyang in order to conquer the rest of Song. And the humiliation of the unstoppable Mongolian army at Xiangyang only strengthened their determination to conquer it. In 1268, the Yuan army returned to besiege Xiangyang, a siege that they would stay in until Xiangyang fell.

Failure of the old trebuchet Editar

Yuan learned from their mistake, and this time brought along with them about a hundred trebuchets. These trebuchets had a shooting range of around 100 meters, and could use projectiles of around 50 kg. During Mongol campaigns against Jin, the Mongols used about 5,000 trebuchets, and they were very successful in destroying the Jin fortresses.

However, Song had expected a trebuchet siege, and made preparations beforehand. They had expanded the river in this area, to a width of over 150 meters. And in addition to reinforcing their walls, they made nettings, which they used to cover the walls during a trebuchet siege. As a result, the Yuan trebuchets had a hard time hitting the fortress, and the few lucky shots that did hit the wall bounced off harmlessly.

Yuan entrapment Editar

Yuan then started to block Xiangyang off from the rest of Song. A Yuan fleet of 5,000 ships was established, to stop any Song supplies from the Han river. Yuan also sent forces to go around the fortress, and set up camps at the key roads, to stop Song supplies from land. Eventually, Yuan built their own forts at these key locations.

From late 1267 to 1271, Song reinforcements from the south tried, many times, to attack the Yuan positions, in order to supply Xiangyang. Unfortunately, outside of Xiangyang, the Song forces were no match for the Mongolian cavalry. And once the Yuan forts were completed, the situation became hopeless. As a result, the Song forces inside Xiangyang had to depend on themselves.

But Song had stored years of supplies within Xiangyang. That said, by 1271, the fortress finally ran low on their supplies. Still, the Song troops chose to hang on.

Finally, in 1272, a small Song force of 3,000 men was able to break though the Yuan naval blockade, and supplied Xiangyang from the Han river. This was a major morale boost to the defenders. However, no one could not get back out. The Song emperor, considered that reinforcement lost and Xiangyang doomed to fall from the lack of supplies, did not send more Song reinforcements afterwards.

Mongol's new weapon Editar

The dream of Song defending Xiangyang forever came to a crashing end on 1273, with the introduction of the counterweight trebuchet.

Hulagu Khan and his top general Guo Kan were recalled back to the Yuan heartland after the death of Mongke Khan, and in their conquest of Persia and Middle East, they've brought back the counterweight trebuchet technology. These counterweight trebuchets had a shooting range of 500 meters, and could launch projectiles weighing over 300kg. On top of their power, these new trebuchets were much more accurate than the old ones, and were the only artillery powerful enough to break the strong walls of Xiangyang. Yuan forces built about 20 of them, and used them to assist the siege of Xianyang.

Yuan started the siege with Fancheng in early 1273. Song soldiers in Xiangyang watched in horror as giant rock fall flew right over the gigantic walls of Fancheng, and hit the houses inside. The walls, with netting on them, crippled as if the walls were made of sand. And as soon as the walls fell, Mongolian cavalry stormed the fortress. Fancheng, after holding up for years, suddenly fell within a few days.

Yuan then turned their attention to Xiangyang. However, Lü Wenhuan did not give up, because he knew Xiangyang must not fall. He sent a messenger to the Song emperor, to request immediate reinforcements. The messenger successfully got by the Yuan forts and reached the emperor. But upon hearing the power of these new trebuchets, the emperor considered Xiangyang lost and did not send reinforcements.

For the next few days, Song soldiers looked to the south for reinforcements, but all they saw were Yuan counterweight trebuchets and more than 100,000 Mongolian cavalry waiting to end their lives. For years, the Song soldiers had hoped that the situation will eventually get better for them, but it only got worse.

In February, one testing shot was fired into the city, and the shot happened to hit a stone bridge inside. When the stone landed, it sounded like thunder. Song soldiers went to check the damage, and to their horror the stone had sunk a few feet into the solid ground.

Massive chaos occurred right after the testing shot. Many soldiers and civilians tried to open the gate and escape. Yuan told Lü Wenhuan that, if Song did not surrender, everyone inside, including all civilians, would be slaughtered. Lü Wenhuan, with no chance of defending the fortress any longer, and no reinforcements in sight, surrendered his forces, hence ending this long six year siege.

Aftermath Editar

Xiangyang, the strongest fortress of the Song Dynasty, had fallen. As a result, Yuan forces were free to conquer the rest of southern China. Everywhere else Yuan went, Song fortresses fell like sand castles, due to the counterweight trebuchets and later, cannons.

Many people agree that the fall of Xiangyang marked the end of the Song Dynasty. For the six years that Yuan sieged Xiangyang, Song were unable to regroup and strike back at Yuan with their resources in the south. In fact, they could not even get much reinforcements and supplies to Xiangyang, to support the hard working defence there. In a way, Song Dynasty 's end was well deserved.

Role of the counterweight trebuchet Editar

The sieges of Fancheng and Xiangyang were also noteworthy for the introduction of the counterweight trebuchet in China by the Mongol invaders as these new weapons proved to be decisive in forcing the surrenders of the two cities in 1273. Within a few days after the Mongols took up the bombardment of Fancheng by the counterweight trebuchet in March 1273, the city had been ripe for attack and successfully assaulted. Shortly afterwards, the Chinese commander of Xiangyang, realising that the city could not withstand a similar attack, accepted the Mongol surrender terms.

The counterweight trebuchet was a relatively new type of ballistic siege engine which was much more powerful than the earlier traction trebuchets, which had existed in China for centuries. The origin of the counterweight trebuchet is obscure, but it appears to have been invented somewhere in the Mediterranean basin in the twelfth century. Many possible inventors have been hypothesized, including Emperor Alexios I Komnenos of Byzantium[1] and the Muslim engineers of Saladin.[2]

The design of the trebuchets deployed at Xiangyang Editar

Since the Mongols employed Muslim engineers for the designing of the counterweight trebuchets, they were designated in Chinese historiography as the "Muslim" trebuchet (hui-hui pao). However, regarding the exact nature of the trebuchets used by the Mongol armies, recent research by Paul E. Chevedden indicates that the hui-hui pao was actually a European design, a double-counterweight engine that as Cheveddens shows had been introduced to the Levant by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (1210-1250) only shortly before.[3] The Muslim historian Rashid al-Din (1247?–1318) refers in his universal history to the Mongol trebuchets used at the Song cities as "Frankish" or "European trebuchets" ("manjaniq ifranji" or "manjaniq firanji"):

Before that there had not been any large Frankish catapult in Cathay [i.e. China], but Talib, a catapult-maker from this land, had gone to Baalbek and Damascus, and his sons Abubakr, Ibrahim, and Muhammad, and his employees made seven large catapults and set out to conquer the city [Sayan Fu or Hsiang-yang fu = modern Xiangfan].[4]

The Chinese scholar Zheng Sixiao (1206–83) indicates that, "in the case of the largest ones, the wooden framework stood above a hole in the ground".[5] Chevedden considers this to be clearly a description of the double-counterweight bricola, since, according to him, that was the only counterweight piece of artillery that had a framework capable of being mounted in a hole in the ground and was commonly set up in this fashion. Thus, the fall of the Song cities was testimony to the wide diffusion of military technology which the Mongol conquests brought along.

Another version is given by Marco Polo in his book Il Milione where he claims having been responsible for teaching the Mongols how to build and use catapults during the siege of Xiangyang. However, the names of the Muslim engineers were given by Muslim sources as Talib and his sons Abubakr, Ibrahim, and Muhammad,[6] respectively by Chinese sources as Ala-ud-Din and Isma'il.[7] Moreover, the siege had already ended before Marco Polo's arrival in China.[8]

Cultural references Editar

In the wuxia novel The Return of the Condor Heroes by Jinyong, a battle at Xiangyang is the climax of the story, with the protagonists such as Yang Guo and Guo Jing participating in the defense of the city.

References Editar

  1. "Black Camels and Blazing Bolts: The Bolt-Projecting Trebuchet in the Mamluk Army", Mamluk Studies Review Vol. 8/1, 2004, p. 231
  2. Liang, Jieming (2006). Chinese Siege Warfare: Mechanical Artillery & Siege Weapons of Antiquity, p. 30
  3. "Black Camels and Blazing Bolts: The Bolt-Projecting Trebuchet in the Mamluk Army", Mamluk Studies Review Vol. 8/1, 2004, pp.227-277 (232f.)
  4. Rashiduddin Fazlullah’s Jamiʻuʾt-tawarikh (Compendium of Chronicles), English translation & annotation by W.M. Thackston, 3 vols., Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, Dept. of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, 1998-99, 2: 450
  5. Quoted in Needham and Yates, Science and Civilisation in China, 5:6:221)
  6. Rashiduddin Fazlullah’s Jamiʻuʾt-tawarikh (Compendium of Chronicles), English translation & annotation by W.M. Thackston, 3 vols., Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, Dept. of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, 1998-99, 2: 450
  7. Liang, Jieming (2006). Chinese Siege Warfare: Mechanical Artillery & Siege Weapons of Antiquity, p. 30
  8. Wood, Frances (1995). Did Marco Polo go to China?, London: Secker & Warburg, pp. 107-108.

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