The Review of Takeda Katsuyori's military command in AD 1575 Battle of Nagashino

Jul 2018
497
Hong Kong
#1
Was Katsuyori’s performance in the battle of Nagashino really “foolhardy and dim-witted” as some criticized ?

Answer :

Of course not. Many people simply viewed this question based on the result and criticized Katsuyori for his reckless decision to wage field battle against the numerically superior Tokugawa-Oda armies even though he had realized that Oda Nobunaga set up the extensive fortified earthwork (three-line palisades, ditches, watchtowers…etc) in Shitaragahara plus the large amount of matchlocks for garrison. Those critics concluded that Katsuyori launched the foolish and costly frontal assault regardless of the disadvantageous terrain.

However, they completely omitted this important fact : Katsuyori did not aim on seeking the ultimate showdown with the numerically superior enemy armies in such clear disadvantage from the beginning. Synthesizing the entire course of the campaign, we would surely acquire the different conclusion.

First of all, the decisive battle on Shitaragahara plain was not what Takeda Katsuyori initially planned ; it was just the result of the development of events that forced Katsuyori to make this gamble.

The original plan of Katsuyori was marching into the Mikawa province southward through the mountainous path of the eastern Mino province, then stormed the Tokugawa’s most important base in the region — Okazaki castle. Prior to Katsuyori’s commencement of military operation, Tokugawa Ieyasu’s close retainer Oga Yoshiro had defected to the Takeda side and attempted to help Katsuyori wrest Okazaki castle ; sensing of a golden opportunity, Katsuyori intended to conquer the whole Mikawa province once at all, and if succeed, he shall sever the line-of-communication between Oda and Tokugawa and thus grasp the strategic domination. Unfortunately, the plan to seize Okazaki castle was thwarted as that traitor had been uncovered, so Katsuyori changed to an alternative plan — marching eastward and attack Yoshida castle, but abandoned the cause again when finding it well-guarded ; and therefore he went further eastward to besiege Nagashino castle — the vital chokepoint guarding the border of Mikawa province and Toyomi province, held by Okudaira Sadamasa who was a traitor turncoat to the Tokugawa side in the eyes of Takeda.

The Nagashino castle was at the verge of falling with only 500 defenders under the onslaught of the 15,000-strong Takeda army when Nobunaga and Ieyasu’s coalition army came for rescue. Once that castle fall, Katsuyori would totally cut off the connection between Mikawa and Toyomi, slicing the Tokugawa realm into halves ; simultaneously, the Takeda army would link up with all its forts across Tobigasuyama (Mount Tobigasu) as the integrated defensive line compounded with the natural barrier of Samusagawa (Samusa River) after the subjugation of Nagashino castle, therefore obstructed the numerically superior Oda-Tokugawa army with such the formidable position. Hence, Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu were actually the one so hurried to seek the offensive for turning table since Takeda Katsuyori had been mastering the situation in this stage.

However, the amazing raid carried out by Nobunaga for breaking the stalemale completely disrupted the Takeda clan’s original battle plan, as Sakai Tadatsugu, the Tokugawa retainer, launched the surprise attack upon the siege forts constructed around Tobigasuyama in encirclement of the Nagashino castle and annihilated all the Takeda troops there with 3,000 troops ; this was a heavy blow to the Takeda army, both in morale and strategic position. With the main route of withdrawal severed, whilst the enemy main army plus the well-fortified earthwork were awaiting ahead (added with great amount of matchlocks), the Takeda army plunged into the extraordinary disadvantage. There were only two options : attack or retreat.

Perhaps many people instantly argue : why not just retreat then, it’s better than seeking pitched battle with enemy troops. Was retreat really a better decision for Katsuyori ?

You need to know that the Sengoku-era military force was totally unlike the well-trained, highly-disciplined professional troops under the sophisticated command of superbly military organization with instant method of communication nowadays, but usually a large bunch of feudal levies and samurai in mixture, consisted of the vast number of conscripted miscellaneous subjects from wide range of regions possessed by different local warlords. It was pretty difficult for coordination and joint operation, and practically even harder for orderly withdrawal when the enemies were closing by ; the whole army might fall into chaos after the generals ordered the retreat, and worst, encountered with the hot pursuit from the emboldened enemy army ; in consequence, the Takeda army might be routed had this scenario occurred.

The best example for showing this possibility was Asakura Yoshikage’s grand army collapsed at once in AD 1573 battle of Tonesaka under the thunderous pursuit and onslaught led by Nobunaga, sufficient enough to prove how risky the choice of retreat could be that did not guarantee better consequence than to battle. In addition, the Takeda army’s morale was at the lowest ebb with Tobigasuyama had fallen into enemies (meant it would be sandwiched from two sides), retreat at this moment might incur the great worry and apprehension among the Takeda soldiers ; moreover, Nobunaga was a gifted military commander that excelled in taking advantage of the enemy’s weakness on the battlefield, very likely he would conduct the hot pursuit if the Takeda army retreated. In that case, the withdrawal might turn into catastrophe since there’re no guarantee of successful rear-guard actions which were few in number in viewing of the entire Sengoku Era. Therefore, advancing forward to defeat the enemy in field battle seemed the easier choice in practice.

Also, Katsuyori’s offensive upon the Oda-Tokugawa army was absolutely not the “suicidal charge” propagandized by the Japanese animes & the Taiga drama.

Numerous people overestimate the power of matchlocks. In reality, the shooting rate of the Sengoku Era’s matchlocks was only 2-3 times a minute in average, and its firing accuracy was pretty low, could only inflict massive casualties upon enemies by close-range salvo ; added that it was also plagued by the troubles of barrel breakdown, overheated issue and difficulty of reloading. Hence, that sort of dramatical scene of great slaughter upon the charging Takeda troops with massively devastating firepowers only exists in people’s imagination.

Then some people argue : “isn’t exactly the three-rows volley adopted by the Oda-Tokugawa armies the great solution to the problem ? ” However, this viewpoint is lack of evidential support from the historical documents. First of all, it was doubted whether the Oda-Tokugawa armies possessed 3,000 pieces of matchlocks. And those arquebusiers were mostly composed of temporarily-conscripted ashigaru, it was highly questionable did those men have enough capability in coordination and organization to exert the complicated formation of “three-rows volley”.

Moreover, although Nobunaga constructed the three-line palisades in front of his main force as the defensive line, it was merely the hastily-erected earthwork, didn’t reach the stage of “castle”. Therefore, it was not impregnable as many people imagined and actually breakable with concentrated heavy assault.

Last but not least, the existing historical documents about the battle of Nagashino was very scarce and incomplete, utterly lack of detail and analyze about Katsuyori and the Takeda army’s tactics and disposition, thus it was difficult to judge whether was Katsuyori’s decision to attack wise, and whether was retreat better than waging battle. Nonetheless, the ancient military chronicle Nobunaga’s Chronicle (《信長公記》) and The Record of Nagashino (《長篠日記》) depicted that the Takeda army conducted five-waves’ offensive in attempt of enveloping enemies, and the fact that the Oda-Tokugawa armies suffered the heavy casualties of 6,000 men clearly demonstrated that it was the well-planned attack rather than the reckless, disorder charge upon the enemy formation. Obviously the Takedy army devised some sorts of tactics in the battle we do not know.

In general, although Katsuyori made a great blunder in the battle of Nagashino, it was not attributed to his recklessness or incompetence, but the decision compelled by the urgency of situation (despite it was not a good tactical decision). This is my personal perspective of the battle.

So, what do you think ?
 
Last edited:
Jul 2018
497
Hong Kong
#3
That is no contradiction. What make you think that those guys made great blunder are surely attributed to their lack of ability in thinking and planning ?

There could be many other reasons for making great blunders, such like the lack of available information about the enemy planning and disposition, overestimation of self-strength or underestimation of enemies', his subordinates' influence, his superior's pressure, forced to make decision under the great pressure in urgency, the false judgment based on the inaccurate intelligence, the failure of communication, the greed for merit....etc

Nowadays, you could just sit comfortably in front of your computer in a room probably installed with an air-conditioner to analyze all those historical events, you cannot imagine how the contemporary military commanders lead such the large army probably under the uncomfortable weather (probably under the scorching sun, or the torrential rain, or the heavy fog blinded the surrounding environment) in the Sengoku Era.
 
Oct 2017
169
Poland
#4
Also, Katsuyori’s offensive upon the Oda-Tokugawa army was absolutely not the “suicidal charge” propagandized by the Japanese animes & the Taiga drama.
I know the drama you are reffering to, but is there an anime which directly depicts this battle instead of just mentioning it?


You need to know that the Sengoku-era military force was totally unlike the well-trained, highly-disciplined professional troops under the sophisticated command of superbly military organization with instant method of communication nowadays, but usually a large bunch of feudal levies and samurai in mixture, consisted of the vast number of conscripted miscellaneous subjects from wide range of regions possessed by different local warlords. It was pretty difficult for coordination and joint operation, and practically even harder for orderly withdrawal when the enemies were closing by ; the whole army might fall into chaos after the generals ordered the retreat, and worst, encountered with the hot pursuit from the emboldened enemy army ; in consequence, the Takeda army might be routed had this scenario occurred.
Well said. But I think you overestimate the modern soldiers a bit. European and Japanese knights were quite well trained and brave too.


Still, it's true that it's hard to withdraw in such situation. I remember reading the manga titled "Sengoku", I think it depicted some retreat performed by Nobunaga army with Toyotomi in the rear guard. Do you know which event it was supposed to depict and how well it went?


From my field: In Pyliavtsi 1648, the Polish army was commanded by people who were not trusted. At some point, someone made a rumor that the commanders had fled and this caused the army to crumble. Jerzy Lubomirski and his brothers were in this army (one or both brothers, now I don't remember). When Stanisław, father of Jerzy, learned about the escape of his sons, he said about them: “I would be more pleased if I received news of your death than by seeing your shameful return. If I had a good name, you annihilated it, if honor and glory, you trampled on it, if the gold was shining on privileges given me by kings, you stained it with mud and mixed with a chaff”. He died shortly thereafter. In a later rebellion against the Polish king, Lubomirski's army based its whole strategy on a continuous withdrawal. Although the king was the pursuer, his army was in decline, and the army of Lubomirski, made up of rebels, stayed strong.
 
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Jul 2018
497
Hong Kong
#5
Do you know which event it was supposed to depict and how well it went?
The AD 1570 Battle of Kanegasaki

In Pyliavtsi 1648, the Polish army was commanded by people who were not trusted. At some point, someone made a rumor that the commanders had fled and this caused the army to crumble.
That was an interesting story. Cut the snake head so it fell.

European and Japanese knights were quite well trained and brave too.
Raw recruits and feudal levies were another matter.
 
Oct 2017
169
Poland
#6
The AD 1570 Battle of Kanegasaki

From what I understand, the retreat was quite successful and the army did not fall apart. So maybe it was also possible for Takeda.


That was an interesting story. Cut the snake head so it fell.

I gave it as an example of a 17th century army falling apart. Next, I gave an example of basically the same people retreating multiple times without falling apart. But obviously the Takeda army was not made of those people, so maybe for that army it was impossible to retreat in good order while being chased.
 

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