Ming-Mongol Wars

Discussion in 'Military History' started by solarz, Nov 5, 2014.

  1. solarz
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    solarz Colonel

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    Contrary to common misconceptions, the Yuan dynasty continued to exist even after the Ming dynasty was founded. Much like the Song Dynasty became the Southern Song, the Yuan dynasty became the Northern Yuan.

    The Ming and the Northern Yuan Mongols fought many wars against each other. Two particularly noteworthy examples are:

    Battle of Buyur Lake - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Tumu Crisis - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    I find these wars particularly interesting because the Mongol Cavalry was nigh invincible in the 13th century, and by all accounts they remained effective throughout the 14th century. However, the Ming army under Emperor Hongwu (i.e. Zhu Yuanzhang) was highly effective against Yuan forces. What were the technological advancements that allowed the Ming forces to achieve victory against the mighty Mongol Cavalry? Zhu's campaign to create Ming was one of rare examples where China was "conquered" from the South.

    The South Song dynasty had a significant weakness with their lack of horses. Zhu's forces pushed from the South to the North, so how did the Ming overcome this weakness?

    The Tumu Crisis is also fascinating. An expeditionary force of 500k Ming troops was annihilated by less than 5000 Mongol Cavalry. Even factoring in incompetent command from the top, that is a staggering numerical advantage to overcome! How did the Ming army collapse so readily? Why were the Ming military commanders not able to hold their men together and fight back?
     
  2. siegecrossbow
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    siegecrossbow Brigadier
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    Improved firearms were certainly a factor. During the late Hongwu era, at least 10% of the Ming military were equipped with handgonnes or cannons. However, I think the primary factor in Ming's dominance against the Mongols stemmed from the fact that the Han Chinese were able to improve their cavalry by winning the loyalties of many Mongol tribes. They helped train competent horse archers that allowed the Ming military to go toe to toe with the best light cavalry of the world. After losing the 16 provinces of Yan-Yun, the Song never had the chance to create a strong cavalry capable of contending with the Northern Barbarians.

    Eunuch Wang Zhen and his incompetent leadership was responsible for the disastrous defeat at Tumu. Considering the fact that the battle occurred little over 30 years following Yongle's campaigns, I don't think that the Ming soldiers (which consisted of elite troops) were to blame here. The Ming troops were led astray in what was essentially a desert with no water or provisions. Once the Wala Mongols charged, the military had no will to fight.
     
  3. shen
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    shen Senior Member

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    Go back to Han, during the decisive Battle of Mobei, Wei Qing's West flank force also didn't have much cavalry, yet he managed to defeat a much superior cavalry force. The tactic is just like the wagon circle you see in American western movies. Form a wagon circle with the supply wagons to blunt the initial charge, foot archers shoot from cover to inflict casualty, mobile reserve to counterattack. Similar tactic was used throughout the world by infantry heavy armies to overcome cavalry forces.

    To Ming time, the idea is the same. Well supplied, competently lead infantry armies didn't have a problem expelling steppe cavalry armies in much of the terrain of China proper. Stopping hit and run raids, decisively defeating tribes north of arid regions is different matter. The logistics challenge is huge. And you do need expensive elite cavalry forces to catch up with the enemy. Hu Wuti almost bankrupted his empire waging his ambitious campaigns north of the Gobi desert. Most dynasties found it cheaper and easier to use bribes and politics to divide the northern tribes, prevent them from unifying, rather than strike decisively in their heartland.
     
    #3 shen, Nov 5, 2014
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2014
  4. solarz
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    solarz Colonel

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    Yes, I understand that the Tumu disaster was caused by incompetent leadership from the top, but if the Ming troops were really elite, why were the commanders and lower-level officers not able to mount any kind of defense? Even if a fraction of Ming troops were able to rally, they would still have outnumbered the Mongols.

    This indicates to me two possible issues. One, the Ming military organization was extremely centralized and rigid, to the point that an incompetent command at the top would result in the annihilation of the entire army. Two, the Ming troops themselves were poorly trained, suffered from low morale, or had very little combat experience.
     
  5. wtlh
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    wtlh Junior Member

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    By the time of Zhu Yuanzhang, the Mongol, a.k.a Yuan government, forces are mere shadows of its former past.

    The Mongol regime, first of all, is politically very weak and fragmented, emperors after Kublai Khan got deposed and killed within a couple of years, coming onto and down from the throne like a revolving door, and power was fought between a few families only interested in their own personal gains. Politics became more and more tribal, and rival's defeat in the hands of the enemy spelt good news instead of bad.

    The troop morale was very low, and they were poorly trained, if trained at all. The majority of the Yuan soldiers were still Han infantry---you can imagine the morale in these units. And the originally much feared Mongol cavalry had lost much of its shine. The racial policy had made most Mongol decedents spoilt with excesses and decadences. The rugged, skilful and mobile horsemen of the old had been replaced by fat land-lords only interested with wealth, wine and women.

    For ages, the main difficulty for Han troops to fight nomadic types were logistics and the lack of easy targets. Boarder areas where far away from supply bases, and cost of maintaining a fighting force was always very high. There were no obvious targets to attack, no cities, only desert or grasslands. The place was inhospitable, and unsuitable for farming and therefore permanent settlement. Coupled with the inherent better mobility of the nomads---people to are more than used to the hash conditions, the Han forces always had been chasing shadows or running one step behind trying to defend against raids. This problem was greatly mitigated for the rebels, as they were fighting in China proper, with entirely different strategic goals and logistic situations. There, you take land and cities, and you grow in strength as you fight. Supplies of both men and material were nearly always within easy reach.

    This is the reason, why, while Zhu and his generals were able to successfully pushing the Mongols out into the wilderness in a lightning pace with what largely was a peasant army, the remnants of the Yuan empire survived much longer, and the Ming were never able to defeat the remnants, despite of it trying very hard and persistently during its height in the reign of Yongle.

    Remember, this was the Mongol force's inability to put down the peasant revolts in the first place, that had led to the rise of Zhu Yuanzhang. After that the situation for Yuan just snow balled, and they were literally relying on being able to buy over rebel commanders with money and ranks in order to survive.
     
  6. wtlh
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    wtlh Junior Member

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    When you go without food and water for just a couple of days, even the most elite and fanatical soldiers will not be able to fight. Unless soldiers are replaced by robots, the army marches and fights on its stomach. No food/water == no army.

    Also, history at that time is not very accurate nor reliable on details. Annihilation could mean many things: From a total collapse and route, and subsequent slaughter and surrender, to a successive number of defeats followed by a final blow, to a general route with pockets of resistance lasting for some time longer, to defections. Of course the overall result is the same: the total annihilation of a military unit.

    The Ming soldiers are usually family soldiers, in that if you are born in a military family (a social classification), then your father, you and your son will all require to serve in the military. And in a lot of cases, father and son fought alongside in the same unit. The troops fighting at the border were elite units. Elite, in the sense that they had experienced active service and hardship for a long time, and most were veterans.

    The most inflexible and centralised military model in Chinese history has been that of the Song (esp. Northern), resulted from the great paranoia for coupe e'stats and military rebellions which had been plaguing Chinese politics ever since the later days of Tang. Ming military organisation and tactics had been much improved in comparison.
     
    #6 wtlh, Nov 6, 2014
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2014
  7. solarz
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    solarz Colonel

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    From what I have read about the Tumu Crisis, though the Ming army had fought several losing engagements prior, the bulk of its forces was wiped out in a single attack by only 5000 Mongol cavalry. From what I have read, troop morale was extremely low due to the harsh expedition route and the prior losses, but I did not get the impression that they were starving.
     
  8. siegecrossbow
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    They went for days without water since Wang Zhen decided to make camp near "Tumu Castle", which was essentially a desert. Soldiers dug 10-15 meters but couldn't find a single drop of water.
     
  9. montyp165
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    How problematic were the logistics compared to, let's say, Napoleon's campaign in Russia, with regards to the dearth of materials for foraging/scavenging and such?
     
  10. plawolf
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    plawolf Brigadier

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    5000 horseman 'wiping out' 500k infantry is just hyperbolic nonsense. It was more like the Ming troops broke and melted away rather than being slaughtered.

    Given the harsh conditions, maybe a lot or even most of them perished from dehydration and other common desert ailments rather than being killed in actual combat, and the mongols either claimed those deaths as kills or the historians of the time did not factor that into account and just assumed anyone who didn't come back get killed in battle.

    Factors that might have led to the troops moral collapsing are most likely a combination of:
    -retarded leadership.
    -cronyism in the selection of officers and generals.
    -corruption with military budgets being diverted to line the pockets of generals and officials rather than being spent on weapons, training, provisions or even wages for the troops.
    -the presence of the Emperor, meaning generals were more interested in demonstrating their bravery and martial prowess rather than sound military tactics. One can easily imagine the Emperor being displeased with generals who suggested their troops dig in behind defenses to blunt the enemy Calvary advantage and instead insist on glorious head on counter charges with the inevitable results.
    -traitional Chinese leadership structures. Ancient Chinese armies used to be very 'hero' driven, with generals and champions expected to lead from the front, and contest of arms between rival champions would often have a crucial, possibly even decisive impact on the outcome of an engagement, with the moral of the common soldiery of the winning champion sky rocketing while that of the loosing side plummets.

    This could have been exacerbated by the Emperor being present, as generals might have felt compelled to ride forth ahead of their soldiers to challenge the mongols in honourable single combat and got an arrow through the face for their trouble with their troops left leaderless, disheartened and easily broken.
     
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