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Old October 9th, 2017, 04:31 PM   #1

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The Jurchen Cavalry Charge


Poor quality cavalry route if their first charge fails against enemy formations. Good quality cavalry can charge against dense formations again and again multiple times, even if every charge was beaten back.

What I noticed about description of the Jurchen cavalry charge is peculiar though, because their cavalry were split into at least two divisions. Only a portion of the cavalry commits to a charge at first, with cavalry reserves hanging back waiting for an opportune time to charge into any openings that the committed cavalry created. In comparison, when most other good quality cavalry would make a charge against a solid infantry formation, one of two things happen. If they succeed in breaking the enemy formation, then the enemy routes and the cavalry keeps attacking. If the charge fails to break the formation, then the cavalry retreats, regroups, and charges again at an opportune time. It was the job of the horse archers to create an opening, not the charging cavalry. If the cavalry army was outmatched in firepower, I can see why the Jurchens would adopt a new tactic.

The Jurchen cavalry have a portion of their cavalry hang back as reserves instead of charging. During Wanyan's time if the charging cavalry fails to break into the enemy formation, then they retreat to the sides while the reserve cavalry charges. I can see the tactical advantage to this. Such a tactic allows a second/third charge against the same enemy formation within a much smaller time gap in between each charge. So if the first charge managed to create a gap in the enemy formation, but the opening is not enough for the engaged cavalry to take advantage of by slugging it out in melee against enemy infantry, then a second charge by the reserve cavalry would be used to take advantage of that gap created by the first charge.

But if the entire cavalry charges at once with no reserves, then there would be no reserve cavalry just waiting to charge. So in order for the horsemen to commit to a second charge, they need time to retreat and regroup. This also gives time for enemy infantry to regroup as well and close any openings that the first charge created.

Using reserve cavalry to take advantage of any openings the first cavalry created, no doubt required a lot of coordination. The separate cavalry divisions need to 'time it' just right so that when the first group of cavalry is retreating to the sides (left and right), the second group is already charging. By the time of Nurhaci it seems the tactic is changed a little, but a reserve cavalry is still in place.

My interpretation is based off of these sources:

1) The account in Heida Shilue 黑韃事略 is as follows:
其破敌,则登高眺远,先审地势,察敌情伪,专务乘乱。故交锋之始,每以骑队轻突敌阵,一冲才动,则不论众寡 ,长驱直入。敌虽十万,亦不能支。不动则前队横过,次队再冲。再不能入,则后队如之。方其冲敌之时,乃迁延 时刻,为布兵左右与后之计。兵既四合,则最后至者一声姑诡,四方八面响应齐力,一时俱撞。此计之外,或臂团 牌,下马步射。一步中镝,则两旁必溃,溃则必乱,从乱疾入。

Their method of breaking the enemy is first choosing a high ground to observe the enemy situation. They especially seized the opportunity whenever the enemy was in disarray. Thus, when the engagement commenced, they always sent their cavalry into the enemy formation. If their foes already waivered at this first charge, then they would drive right through them no matter how numerous they are. Even if the enemy had 100,000 men, they would still be unable to withstand the onslaught. However, if the opposing force did not break formation, then the previous row would draw to the side, the second row would charge, and if they failed to penetrate the enemy lines, then the next row would do likewise. While assaulting at the enemy, they could also choose a moment to redeploy their forces on the left and right flanks, as well as behind their foes. Their army would concentrate from all sides until the last man arrived and shouted, then they altogether collided against the enemy lines. Except for this tactic, they could dismount and shoot as infantry with shields on their arms…..

2) “奴兵战法,死兵在前,锐兵在后。死兵披重甲,骑双马冲前,虽死而后乃复前,莫敢退亡,则锐兵从后杀之,待其冲动我阵,而后锐兵始乘其胜,一一效阿骨打、兀术等行事。” -明实录东北史资料辑》第四册
"The tactic of the slave force (Jurchen), is that the death squad is in the front, the elite force at the back. The death squad put on heavy armor, rides two horses when charging upfront, even if they die, those in the back still advances, without fear of retreating because the elite forces at the back will kill them if they do. When the charge disrupts our formation, the elite soldiers takes advantage of that by riding in to attain victory--this tactic is based on those of Aguda and (wanyan) wushu."-MingShiLu Northeastern History



My question is:
1) Are there more sources on such tactics? Please provide quotes if there are.
2) Are such tactics only found within Jurchen society, or is there evidence of other cultures practicing this too? Please provide quotes if there is.

Click the image to open in full size.

Last edited by HackneyedScribe; October 9th, 2017 at 06:28 PM.
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Old October 9th, 2017, 06:20 PM   #2

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I think from a scientific as well as strategic POV a hanging reserve cavalry makes good sense. A charging cavalry group is a bit like a battering ram whacking a fortress gate. Difference is, a cavalry group is not like a big piece of dead log, it comprises both humans & horses, therefore it can & does experience fatigue from exertion of strong effort.

So, giving it a break to rest, wud be just a reasonable thing to do, making it available for a second charge when it has got back its wind. It cud work an important psychological effect on the enemy too. If there are, let's just say, five rows of cavalry groups, then for them it wud be like they'd be facing five cavalry groups coming at them, each one carrying fresh strength in it. It wud be something quite formidable, and now, I for one wud not like to be in that dense defensive formation having to bear the brunt of such an attack.
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Old October 9th, 2017, 07:11 PM   #3

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I remember reading somewhere that this was how the Jurchens beat the Korean arquebusiers. During their experiences with the samurai invasions, the Koreans learned the effectiveness of the Japanese guns. So the Koreans formed a large army of arqubusiers after the samurais withdrew. I think they learned how to make these from the captured guns. When the Jurchen cavalry invaded Korea, these arquebusiers were sent to stop them. It was during the time when the Koreans were reloading their guns that the reserve Jurchen cavalry pounced upon the Koreans. Prior to the samurai invasion, the Koreans had defeated the earlier Jurchen invasions without any guns.
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Old October 10th, 2017, 11:32 AM   #4

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It would be cool to know just how the multiple cavalry charges were meant to disrrupt the infantry. That is, in what form the hand to hand combat would take place.
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Old October 10th, 2017, 01:35 PM   #5

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Interesting read (btw, welcome to the forum !)

I have a question:

Quote:
… The death squad put on heavy armor, rides two horses when charging upfront …
What is that ridding two horses ?
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Old October 10th, 2017, 02:16 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by deaf tuner View Post
Interesting read (btw, welcome to the forum !)

I have a question:



What is that ridding two horses ?
Spare.
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Old October 10th, 2017, 05:29 PM   #7

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Yes, I agree it is speaking of a spare.

Anyway, I think it's better to communicate with pictures rather than words at this point.

Here is a regular cavalry charge, given the cavalry is good enough to refrain from routing after merely one failed charge:

Click the image to open in full size.

In the above example, it is the job of the horse archers to create disruptions in enemy formations for cavalry to charge into. But against heavily armored infantry, or an army with overwhelming firepower (both of which were qualities of Song armies that the Jurchens fought), it's a losing battle to stay back and exchange firepower.

The above is also practiced by the Jurchens, but they developed a different tactic too. Wanyan's tactics is thus:

Click the image to open in full size.

Click the image to open in full size.

Their method of breaking the enemy is first choosing a high ground to observe the enemy situation. They especially seized the opportunity whenever the enemy was in disarray. Thus, when the engagement commenced, they always sent their cavalry into the enemy formation. If their foes already waivered at this first charge, then they would drive right through them no matter how numerous they are. Even if the enemy had 100,000 men, they would still be unable to withstand the onslaught. However, if the opposing force did not break formation, then the previous row would draw to the side, the second row would charge, and if they failed to penetrate the enemy lines, then the next row would do likewise. While assaulting at the enemy, they could also choose a moment to redeploy their forces on the left and right flanks, as well as behind their foes. Their army would concentrate from all sides until the last man arrived and shouted, then they altogether collided against the enemy lines. Except for this tactic, they could dismount and shoot as infantry with shields on their arms… - Heida Shilue

Given this tactic, I can see why the horse chopping cleavers were adopted by Yue Fei and onwards as an anti-cavalry method: very long swords or glaives used to cut off the horse's legs, which prevents them from retreating, and their fallen bodies would probably hamper the next oncoming charge too. Looking at the Jurchen cavalry, the legs would be the only body part not covered in armor.

Last edited by HackneyedScribe; October 10th, 2017 at 05:44 PM.
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Old October 10th, 2017, 07:08 PM   #8

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Quote:
Originally Posted by HackneyedScribe View Post
Given this tactic, I can see why the horse chopping cleavers were adopted by Yue Fei and onwards as an anti-cavalry method: very long swords or glaives used to cut off the horse's legs, which prevents them from retreating, and their fallen bodies would probably hamper the next oncoming charge too. Looking at the Jurchen cavalry, the legs would be the only body part not covered in armor.
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What about ranged weapons and skirmishers?
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Old October 10th, 2017, 07:26 PM   #9

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For who? Jurchen Jin or the Song?
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Old October 10th, 2017, 11:20 PM   #10

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Not nitpicking, but more to prevent confusion & misinterpretation, I think that the word 'rout' has been mis-spelt in that diagram.

I wud think that used in the sense of a verb it should hv been 'rout', meaning: (1) to defeat causing disorderly flight & dispersal of the defeated force; or (2) to flee & disperse in a disorderly way as a result of forceful attack; rather than 'route', meaning 'direct to move in a certain guided way'.

Although the past tense form for both wud be spelt the same way, i.e. 'routed', but I believe pronounced in two different ways.

Last edited by Dreamhunter; October 10th, 2017 at 11:25 PM.
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