The 1258 Mongol Grand Invasion of the Song

Who would have won the war if Mongke had lived longer?

  • Mongols

    Votes: 4 28.6%
  • Song

    Votes: 10 71.4%

  • Total voters
    14
Feb 2018
223
US
#1
I wanted to examine the dispositions of the 1258 war in more detail, since apparently there is limited analysis in western sources for this very interesting war. Everyone seems to allocate little attention to it since we know from hindsight that Mongke Khan died a year in and the war was called off, but the war itself was quite tense. The actual size of Mongol army was apparently a state secret, so we can only piece together some guesswork:

"Because the military registers contained important matters [pertaining to] military affairs, the Chinese were not [allowed to] read their figures. Even among the ministers of the Privy Council, who were intimately associated with [these matters] and solely in charge of the armies, only one or two of their leaders knew them that is, the numbers). Therefore, during the [entire] one hundred years of the dynasty, nobody knew the figures of the inner and outer armies." (Allsen, referencing YS 98.947. This should be in the Military Establishment of the Yuan Dynasty by Ch'i-ch'ing Hsiao for those who want the full english translation.)

Rashid al Din's Successors gives a total of 90 tumens in his history of Mongke (p.224-5), the viability of which is analyzed by Thomas Allsen in Mongol Imperialism. Allsen says that since Rashid's source was the highly credible Bolad Chengxiang, a high-ranking Yuan official and former Keshig officer that was on intimate terms with Kublai, his number should not be easily dismissed even if the probable amount of troops 90 tumens means, 500,000-540,000, seems extremely high for the time. This number was possibly feasible to draw from China alone. Allsen cites the Yuan Tien-chang that gives the 1268 quota of Mongol+Han military househould quota in northern China as 720,000 (34, 6b; 212) as evidence for the availability of manpower.

However, Allsen believes that the half-million number is too large as in active force. He instead suggests that this number is the total number of troops that could be committed to the invasion, though many would have been kept as reservists unless needed. This suggestion is based on the premise that it would be too difficult to maintain such a large force across such distances for that era. Ultimately I don't think we can know any more clearly just how large it was.

Rashid explicitly gives the presence of Mongol, Khitan, Chinese, Tangut, Jurchen, and Korean soldiers in east asia. The Tanguts at one point had an army of 158,000 (Desmond Martin, Rise of Chingiz Khan, referencing the Xi Xia Shu Shi?), but it's unknown how many troops they could have provided Mongke after they were destroyed. A long list of YS passages confirm that the former Dali/Yunnan lands supplied two tumens against Dai Viet, the Uighyrs sent at least one tumen to Sichuan, and the Alans sent more than one tumen.

Rashid has Mongke's army, his sister army in western Sichuan, and the Xiangyang army total 60 tumens. Then he has Kublai's army on the left wing total 30 tumens. However, Rashid's lack of knowledge of Chinese geography seems to have limited his understanding of the campaign. For instance, he has Uriyangkhadai teleport to Changsha, implying from Kublai's army, whereas we know from the Yuan Shi (and Wang Yun?) that Uriyangkhadai instead fought his way through the whole Song starting in Vietnam. There was also still another army operating in the east, and Rashid gets confused between this army (at Yangzhou) and Kublai (at Ezhou), which are 600km apart.

Both Allsen and John Masson Smith Jr have come up with around 300,000 men for Hulegu's army in the Middle East, which apparently consisted of 20% of the entire Mongol army. Allsen again infers that this was not his field army but the entire available manpower he could quickly call forth if he required it. Thus we see that potential Mongol manpower was very high, though what they allocated for the forward armies is somewhat of a mystery.


Armies 1-3 and 5 would have been allocated 60 tumens. Armies 4 and 6 would have been given the other 30, if Rashid's ratios are correct. So then put together, the Mongol order of battle would be something like:


1. Mongke Khan: Starts in Gansu, marches south past the Jialing River to Ya`an, after conquering that he sieges Chengdu, after taking it then sieges Hochou/Hozhou(?) and Diaoyu fortress. When he is stalled here, he leaves behind a small masking force at each and sends the bulk of his army to attack Chongqing in southwest Sichuan. His army contained 10 tumens (Rashid al Din) or 40,000 men from Chinese sources (Richard L Davis, Cambridge History of Chin v5 Sung, 869) which he claimed was 100,000 men in propaganda.

2. Starts with Mongke and goes east to besiege Xiangyang. This was likely a small force. Note that Rashid says he starts with Mongke's army further out in the west, but that would mean a very annoying march through Sichuan fortresses or the Qinling mountains. Rossabi suggests that he marches through the Liupan Mountains [and presumably the Qinling mountains as well] from the northwest. It would seem surprising that they attacked through Hanzhong instead of Henan given the much more troublesome terrain.

3. Kokechu? (another son of Subutai) - Started with Mongke and was dispatched to attack Chongqing and other cities in southern Sichuan. I attached Richard Davis's map of this and Mongke's army in the Cambridge History of the Sung, v5. In Boyle's notes of the Rashid translation, Igor de Rachewiltz offers the following:the other two armies crossed the Mits'ang Pass and the Yu Pass, while Mongke crossed the San pass. [YS 3, 8b-9a]. This army must have crossed the westernmost of these passes.

4. Kublai, starts at Kaifeng, marches south and crosses the middle of the Yangtze, besieges Ezhou. Kublai had to cross the Huai River, though it's not clear if he bypassed or defeated the Huai fortresses in his path. Heavenlykaghan gives an army of more than 100,000 from Chinese sources. Rashid al Din offers a specific 100,000 horsemen, so this was likely the largest army. Kublai later joined forces with Uriyangkhadai south of the Yangtze. Kublai had attacked from the northern border, while Uriyangkhadai had approached from the southwest, cutting the Song in two.

5. Uriyangkhadai (Mongke's tutor and Subutai's son) - Starts in Yunnan and Tibet after conquering it in 1253-55, moves through Hanoi in Dai Viet (after conquering it in 1257) to Nanning, then through Guilin, and ends up at Changsha. He defeated a very large number of Song forces, supposedly winning thirteen battles, killing 400,000 soldiers, and capturing three generals, numbers that are almost certainly inflated but likely still real achievements. This army supposedly included 3,000 Mongols and 10,000 Dali soldiers (YS X, 2981). However it certainly had more given the enormous victories it produced. (Stephen G Haw https://www.academia.edu/4835388/The_Deaths_of_Two_Khaghans_a_comparison_of_events_in_1242_and_1260 )

6. Taghachar - Starts in Shandong, marches through Anhwei to threaten the Yangtze Delta (Allsen, Cambridge History of China: Alien Regimes 410). Does he somehow bypass/outmaneuver the Huai River fortresses or does he carve a path? I assume this army doesn't get to cross the Yangtze, and that Rashid al Din's refernces to "Kublai" at Yangzhou are instead meant for this army, which would mean this army had 10 tumens, or maybe 50,000 men. Steven G Haw references YS 1, 51;53 for this campaign. The quote below from the other thread I assume is referencing this army operating in Anhwei, since it says Yuan forces at Jinhu (which is in Jiangsu - I can't find Huaixi Xingyuan so it's probably a medieval name).

Heavenlykaghan offered the following quote:

In, 1275, we hear that Yuan generals complained the original forces on the Song front weren't enough and they needed an additional 100,000:阿术、阿里海牙因言“我师南征,必分为三,旧军不足,非益兵十万不可。”诏中书省签军十万人, the original Yuan forces at Jinhu and Huaixi Xingyuan had at least tens of thousands of soldiers, as we hear that in the same year Jinhu gave 30,000 soldiers and 5,000 marines to Huaixi.
Allsen notes that there was a specific levy of 20,000 soldiers raised in Shandong in 1255 (p.196, referencing YS.148.1585). It seems possible that this force was part of the Anhwei army?

One thing I am not certain about is why there is no mention of any force attacking east from Yunnan. Yunnan was originally conquered in order to outflank the fortifications in Sichuan. Yeah the terrain east of Yunnan is terrible to attack into, but Yunnan itself is very difficult to attack and Uriyangkhadai conquered most of the Dali easily. Uriyangkhadai fulfilled the 3rd outflanking role by attacking from Vietnam, but given their 1232 campaign I would think they'd at least leave a distraction force in Yunnan. However I have heard no mention of it.

Put in graphical form, this would look like the horrible campaign map I drew below (see attached images).

I am much more uncertain on Song dispositions. Their army had something around 700,000 men on paper, with closer to 400,000 effectives at one point in the 1200's. They apparently transferred 100,000 men from the Yangtze delta region to Sichuan when they heard of Mongke's advance (Richard Davis, Cambridge History). Outside of Uriyangkhadai's army which bypassed traditional Song defenses in a wide outflanking maneuver, the Song seem to have not confronted the Mongols in the field but instead held out dispersed in a network of fortifications. Mongke's campaign in Sichuan was an endless series of sieges in very difficult terrain, while according to Rashid al Din the eastern army in Anhwei lost 80% of its men trying to rashly take Yangzhou. I assume Ozhou, Yangzhou, the Huai River fortifications, Xiangyang, and other Yangtze fortifications were strongly held, but I don't know of any non-siege major battles fought besides Uriyangkhadai's.

I would love to hear what others know or think about this very interesting war. It may have ended prematurely due to Mongke's death and Ariq Boke's claim, but it was certainly a very interesting and wide-scale conflict. Stephen G Haw suggests from Song sources that though Mongke's army had stalled, Kublai and Uriyangkhadai's forces had met with outstanding success. The Song empire, even if it was not on the point of collapse, was certainly facing a grave crisis. It is recorded that consternation gripped the Song court when it was informed that a Mongol army had crossed the Yangtze (Song Shi, 3.866). On the other hand, once Kublai decided to retreat to deal with Ariq Boke in Mongolia and start a Civil War, he had to leave his army south of the Yangtze to retreat later, and was apparently flummoxed by the Song defenses.

To make this more fun, I'll end with a question. If Mongke Khan hadn't suddenly died in Sichuan (whatever the reason), who would have won the war?
 

Attachments

Last edited:
Mar 2012
4,412
#2
It depends on what you mean by winning. If it's the complete conquest of the Song, it would be an unlikely task, but if its a partial conquest followed by a demand for annual tribute like the Song paid the Jin, then its possible.
 
Mar 2012
4,412
#3
The reason that it was hard for the Mongols to completely defeat the Song is because there were also Song successes amidst the Mongol onslaught. Qubilai's failure to capture Ezhou frustrated some of his subordinates who proposed to slaughter the local population in retaliation. Qubilai however said; "the defenders only have Jia, whereas you, with 100,000 soldiers cannot defeat him, killing people for several month and still cannot take it, it is the crime of your lot, how could it be the crimes of the commoner?" 彼守城者只一士人贾制置,汝十万众不能胜,杀人数月不能拔,汝辈之罪也,岂士人之罪乎
The locals were hence spared from a genocide.
Amidst the siege, the Song general Lu Wende sailed from Chongqing and defeated the Mongol Han general Zhanrou at Yuezhou and arrived at Ezhou to relief the soldiers there. Uriyangkhadai's success however, prompted the Song court to order Jia to withdraw from Ezhou to Huangzhou. Jia Sidao successfully broke out and moved from Ezhou to Huangzhou to create a new defense line there that could be better defended and it was stated in Songshi Quanwen that because of this successful move to Huangzhou the soldier's fighting spirit raised 下流之兵始振.

This was the situation under which Qubilai received the report that Ariq Boke tried to gain the Mongol throne and hence left immediately without further attacking Ezhou.
 
Mar 2018
78
Earth
#4
The army of the Southern Song had 700,000 men on paper, but I think in reality it's much lower than that. I remember I've watched a documentary on Fishing Town a few years ago, and it mentioned that there were only 4,000 soldiers (plus an unknown number of local militias, the Southern Song by this time was heavily relying on militia) guarding the Fishing Town and no more than 50,000 Song soldiers in all of Sichuan.

And the fact that Uriyangkhadai could penetrate deep into Song territories suggests that the Song had concentrated most of their forces on the Yangtse front and the rear was left open. In fact the Song had entrusted the task of guarding their rear flank to the Bozhou Army, a local tribal militia under the command of the Yang clan, with their base located around modern-day Zunyi in Guizhou province. It's said that the Bozhou militia had defeated the Mongols quite a number of times, though the exact details are still rather unclear. I wonder what was the fate of Uriyangkhadai's army after the death of Mongke and the retreat of Kublai, did they also retreat back to Yunnan or were they annihilated by Song armies?

And it's the first time I heard that the Mongol eastern army lost 80% of its men trying to take Yangzhou. Care to elaborate this siege in detail? I know much less about what happened on the eastern front than in the Sichuan theater. The epic battle at Diaoyu Cheng (Fishing Town) where general Wang Jian defeated Mongke is most of what I know about the 1259 Mongol Grand Invasion of the Song. And according to Song sources the Mongol general Niu Lin also besieged a fortress called Longya or Longyan on the southern edge of Chongqing, yet the Mongols got defeated by Song general Mao Shixiong, and lost an unknown number of soldiers there.

As to whether or not the Mongols could have won the war had Mongke not died at Fishing Town, I think it's hard for them to do that. First of all the Song had a terrain advantage, and secondly you have to admit that the Southern Chinese have a stronger fighting spirit than their northern counterpart. The Jurchens, the Tanguts, and the Kara-Khitai were all boasting to be powerful, yet they were all defeated by the Mongols with relative ease, unlike the Southern Chinese who managed to hold on for decades.
 
Mar 2012
4,412
#5
The Jin was hardly defeated with ease; it was the single most formidable enemy the Mongols faced. Wanyan Heda and Wanyan Chen monk defeated the Mongols, once including Subutei, three consecutive times with inferior numbers too. The Jin resisted the Mongols for 23 years, whereas the Song only continuously resisted the Mongols for 24 (42 including times of peace); and if we include the fall of the capital in 1276 as the end, then the Song only resisted 21 years. If it wasn't for Song aid against the Jin, Jin resistance might have taken even years longer.
 
Mar 2018
78
Earth
#6
The Jin was hardly defeated with ease; it was the single most formidable enemy the Mongols faced. Wanyan Heda and Wanyan Chen monk defeated the Mongols, once including Subutei, three consecutive times with inferior numbers too. The Jin resisted the Mongols for 23 years, whereas the Song only continuously resisted the Mongols for 24 (42 including times of peace); and if we include the fall of the capital in 1276 as the end, then the Song only resisted 21 years. If it wasn't for Song aid against the Jin, Jin resistance might have taken even years longer.
Apart from Wanyan Chenheshang, Jin hardly had other generals that could defeat the Mongols. The rare feat of one general should not be seen as the feat of the whole Jin dynasty.

And I don't think the Jin really resisted for 23 years, cause you have to take out the years when the Mongols were campaigning in the west, from 1217 to 1223 I believe. If you think that the Song only resisted for 24 years due to the intervals in between, then applying the same standard to Jin, they only resisted 17 years or so.

And the Song only joined the Mongols against the Jin at the last moment in 1234. At that time Jin was already 99% dead.
 
Mar 2012
4,412
#7
Apart from Wanyan Chenheshang, Jin hardly had other generals that could defeat the Mongols. The rare feat of one general should not be seen as the feat of the whole Jin dynasty.
If you include failed sieges as defeats, which seem to be the case with all of the major Song victories, the Jin defeated the Mongols way more than just three times under one general.
I think you should take a look at the topic here:
http://historum.com/asian-history/134769-topic-song-dynasty-vs-mongols-4.html

Even after the death of Wanyan Chen monk, the royal and filial army continued to rout the Mongols; such as drowing 3,500 of them at Guide.

And I don't think the Jin really resisted for 23 years, cause you have to take out the years when the Mongols were campaigning in the west, from 1217 to 1223 I believe. If you think that the Song only resisted for 24 years due to the intervals in between, then applying the same standard to Jin, they only resisted 17 years or so.
Muqali was constantly fighting the Jin from 1217 - 1223 in Hebei and Shangdong, and the Jin was winning in that it was recapturing many lost cities. The Jin never had an armistice with the Mongols during the whole time, whereas the Song had two of them.


And the Song only joined the Mongols against the Jin at the last moment in 1234. At that time Jin was already 99% dead.
A decisive moment at that for Meng Gong annihilated the remainder of the core Jin force under Wuxian, 100,000 in size, and was the first to enter Caizhou and captured the Jin emperor before the Mongols.


This is not even considering that throughout the Mongol-Jin war, the Song always tied down a portion of the Jin forces in the south.
 
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Mar 2018
78
Earth
#8
Muqali was constantly fighting the Jin from 1217 - 1223 in Hebei and Shangdong, and the Jin was winning in that it was recapturing many lost cities. The Jin never had an armistice with the Mongols during the whole time, whereas the Song had two of them.

A decisive moment at that for Meng Gong annihilated the remainder of the core Jin force under Wuxian, 100,000 in size, and was the first to enter Caizhou and captured the Jin emperor before the Mongols.
It's true that Muqali was left behind to deal with the Jin, but the major Mongol armies had already been taken away by Chingghis Khan to Central Asia. This period should count as interwar years rather than as years of resistance. If you think that this period should count as years of resistance of the Jin, then by the same standard Yu Jie's fortifications of Sichuan and his skirmishes with the Mongols between 1241 and 1252 should also be added into the Song years of resistance.

And care to elaborate the two Song armistices with the Mongols? AFAIK, the Song never had an armistice with them during wartime (well, maybe once in 1231, but that was before the Song-Mongol wars broke out). The Mongols ended the first Mongol-Song wars because of Ogedei's death, and they ended the second Mongol-Song wars because of Mongke's death. It was not because of armistice.

Meng Gong annihilated Wuxian's forces because Wuxian was planning to invade Sichuan. It was Wuxian's unwise decision to attack the Song that caused his demise, not because of the Song-Mongol alliance. And Meng Gong's victories against the Jin supports my idea that the Southern Song was more powerful than the Jin, if we apply your standard that the feat of one general equals the feat of the whole dynasty.
 
Mar 2012
4,412
#10
It's true that Muqali was left behind to deal with the Jin, but the major Mongol armies had already been taken away by Chingghis Khan to Central Asia. This period should count as interwar years rather than as years of resistance. If you think that this period should count as years of resistance of the Jin, then by the same standard Yu Jie's fortifications of Sichuan and his skirmishes with the Mongols between 1241 and 1252 should also be added into the Song years of resistance.
There are skirmishes between 1242 and 1251, but no actual theatre of war where Mongol armies were constantly fighting peasant resistance or Jin generals where cities constantly shifted hands as was the case with Muqali's war against the Jin.

And care to elaborate the two Song armistices with the Mongols? AFAIK, the Song never had an armistice with them during wartime (well, maybe once in 1231, but that was before the Song-Mongol wars broke out). The Mongols ended the first Mongol-Song wars because of Ogedei's death, and they ended the second Mongol-Song wars because of Mongke's death. It was not because of armistice.
Yes, the Kaghan died, but that doesn't mean peace terms wasn't reached.
The Song and Mongols accepted peace in 1242 when a Song envoy was sent north. Peace was again made in 1260 when Jia Sidao and Qubilai reached terms for a Mongol withdrawal. Mongol sources claimed that the Song submitted as vassals and paid tribute, but scholars have been suspicious of this claim, although accepting tribute (sui bi) was likely as there were plenty of Song precedence in doing that to the Liao and Jin.

Meng Gong annihilated Wuxian's forces because Wuxian was planning to invade Sichuan. It was Wuxian's unwise decision to attack the Song that caused his demise, not because of the Song-Mongol alliance. And Meng Gong's victories against the Jin supports my idea that the Southern Song was more powerful than the Jin, if we apply your standard that the feat of one general equals the feat of the whole dynasty.
That's irrelevant to the point that the Jin's demise was sped up by the Song. The Song was certainly more powerful than the Jin by the beginning of 1234, after the Mongols already annihilated the elite Jin army and conquered the northern part of it. That doesn't mean the Song was more powerful from the get go; the Jin victory in the 1206 war already showed who was the stronger state.