Mongols: Subotai the Valiant

History 3640 16 July 2010 An Unstoppable Force.

“An army of donkeys led by a lion is more effective than an army of lions led by a donkey”- Genghis Khan. The Mongols lived and breathed this quote, making sure whenever they found an enemy they destroyed them. They did this to great extent due to their mighty military machine. Their army was the most mobile anyone had ever seen before and combined with the information they needed about their enemies they were able to make lightning quick raids at strategic targets deep in enemy territory.The Mongol’s militaries ability to adapt to different situations and not only survive in different terrain far from home was due to the hardiness of its peoples and the fact that they actually employed experienced and talented generals. These Generals would use any tactic to win, from deception to genocide as long as it won the day who cared what tactics they used. The fact that the Mongol military was so mobile was a major factor in the overall success of its conquests. Because of their mobility the Mongols were able to surprise their enemies time after time showing up on their flanks unexpectedly.

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For example in the battle of Shansi against the Chin, Subotai led a surprise attack on the Chins forces from both flanks and the rear while Genghis Khan was holding them from the front, the chin army was annihilated (56). Their mobility was due to several reasons, one was that every Mongol soldier had three spare horses and they would alternate riding different horses every few hours to save the endurance of each horse, thus making them able to move great distances swiftly. Another reason is the fact that in times of war they were known to tie themselves in the saddle so it was possible to sleep.This let the army move long distances while their enemies were still asleep, a fact that helped them get the element of surprise time and time again. Subotai demonstrated their mobility by leading the longest cavalry raid in history. He led an army of 30,000 and traveled 5,500 miles in three years (102).

When the Mongols chose to fight in Russia in winter, a season that defeated not only Napoleon’s army but also Hitler’s, it forces you to take notice of the hardiness of these people. The frozen terrain actually enhanced Mongol horse mobility, where the Russian military was ill equipped o fight in winter and was further crippled. The Mongols fast mobility combined with the hardiness of the Mongol way of life helped them conquer numerous kingdoms by attacking through impassable terrain at unheard of times, a harsh Russian winter for example (105). Their mobility combined with a solid strategy was essential to their conquests.

The Mongols also had a very capable military intelligence core. They would scout out areas before the army arrived to see what the local politics were, the rival factions in the area, and what kind of military units or forces they would face.The Mongols planned their entire invasion plans off of these military intelligence reports. For example when they invaded northern Russia they knew if they moved swiftly and attacked quickly, which was no problem for them, the Russians wouldn’t be able to put an army against them (105). That is exactly what happened.

The Mongols tore the Russians apart piece by piece until there was no one that could stand before them. Thanks to the right information the Mongols made some strategic choices at the right time that proved very smart.The Mongols were truly innovators in this area, if you look at their enemies they very rarely learned anything about the Mongols. For example the Russians completely forgot about the battle of Kalka River where they got slaughtered and lost over 40,000 men (100). Since they seemed to have forgotten their previous mistakes they didn’t even try to adapt to the Mongols fighting techniques at all. So the battle of Sita River was a blood bath, where the last Russian army was surrounded and annihilated (108).

But thanks to their intelligence the Mongols already knew something about European troops and fighting techniques. So unlike their enemies the Mongols adapted and thrived. The Mongols adaptability was probably the most significant reason to its success. Unlike a lot of conquering peoples the Mongols didn’t just destroy everything it conquered it also incorporated elements of its enemy’s technologies.

For instance the Mongols at first didn’t use iron weapons but after conflicts with the Chinese and its iron clad armies the Mongols quickly adapted and used them to great success.They also were unused to siege warfare, so they adapted. In fact Genghis Khan thought so highly of siege warfare he made all of his officers study it (53).

They spared any such siege expert when they found him and incorporated him into their ranks. This would later lead them to great success when fighting western armies who didn’t use siege trains that often. They also stole blacksmiths and Genghis khan had a rule that wherever they were to be encountered they were to be spared, and sent back to Mongolia or incorporated into the army.When they took casualties the Mongols forced local steppe peoples into their army, not as mercenary companies but into the Mongol core.

For example after the battle of Sita River the Mongols replaced them from among the Cumans and other steppe people (109). Another huge advantage the Mongols had over their adversaries was the fact that they promoted due to experience and talent, not just by who your father was. The fact that Genghis Khan’s top generals were not of his own tribe proved this. Subotai for example actually climbed his way up from the bottom of the ladder to the top.He started off as a door opener and became the top general in the Mongol army, if not the world at that time. This gave the Mongol army the advantage of having experienced and talented generals in charge of their army, compared to western generals who were in charge due to their birth. The western generals were mostly inexperienced and completely incompetent, which led to poor cohesion among their units and very poor strategy.

Unlike the Mongols who had great unit cohesion. In fact Under Genghis Khan the armies trained during the nerge, or great hunt.The hunt lasted three months and the army formed a line driving all the animals before it. The object was to let nothing escape the ring of soldiers, and the hunt would only stop when every animal within the ring was dead (37). The Mongols were ferocious in battle and practiced a war of extermination.

They didn’t believe in letting the enemy escape to fight another day or some other gentlemanly gestures. The western way of war often practiced taking hostages and then ransoming them. Not so with the Mongols, when they fought an enemy they tried as hard as they could to exterminate every last one of them.

This practice would shake the Europeans to their core. Like the battle of Kalka River where the Mongols pursued the fleeing Russians 150 miles killing as much of them as they could, over 40,000 (100-101). Or in the Battle of Liegnitz the Hungarian king was killed and decapitated (113). The Mongols weren’t interested in ransoms or parleys, the only thing the Mongols wanted was submission and through that conquest. Due to their fierce fighting and the way they casually killed anyone that got in their way. For example Hungary where they estimate the Mongols killed fifty ercent of the population (125). The Mongols had a huge psychological advantage of their enemies because of their ruthlessness.

One of their nicknames was the devils horsemen, which shows you how terrifying they must have been to their enemies. The guile they used to fool their enemies into making mistakes was a huge help like Subatoi said “never stop an enemy commander from making a mistake. ” When Subotai came down from the mountains and met the coalition of Cuman and nomadic peoples, he first attacked head on.

When that didn’t work he sent gifts and false promises to the Cumans so they would withdraw, which they foolishly did. Without the Cumans help the Mongols slaughtered the rest of the coalition and then hunted down and killed the Cumans getting all their gifts back. (96-97) The Mongols would also “recruit” the local populace into the army as infantry conscripts that they thought of as totally expendable. They would also tie straw dummies on their spare horses so that the enemy would think that their army would be much bigger than it actually was and thus be demoralized and ready to give up (29).

This was just a step in their plan to demoralize a country’s population into surrender. They would also send spies and agents into the country before they invaded promising the local populace anything they wanted to hear, to the merchants they promised trade would flourish, to the peasant that life would be better under the rule of the Mongols, and they also promised freedom of religion to those that were oppressed. The Mongols had quite an impressive supply chain.

They were masters of logistics; anyone that disagrees can try to manage a supply train from Mongolia to Western Europe.Although when you don’t have to worry about enemy’s in your rear it does make it easier. But in any case considering their opponents couldn’t operate an effective supply line fifty miles from home let alone a couple of thousand; it gave them a huge advantage. When the enemy is demoralized from lack of decent food, not being paid, and fighting the devils horsemen the battles already half over. Last but certainly not least was the type of warfare the Mongols practiced.

Since they were a nomadic people who started riding horses at the age of hree and started practicing the bow at the age of five you can only imagine how good of riders and shots they must have been. The Mongol warrior was a horse archer by preference. Combine their nomadic lifestyle and harsh climate of the steppes constant intertribal warfare and you get the recipe for producing some of the toughest warriors in the world (30). The standard fighting technique for the Mongol army was to weaken an enemy by their horse archers, then charge home with heavy cavalry normally from ambush.Or to tempt an enemy into pursuing what they think is a route only to surround them with horse archers and destroy them. When the Mongols ran into the heavily armored knights of the west, their arrows had trouble penetrating the thick armor every western knight wore. Instead they shot and killed their horses leaving them stranded for the Mongol heavy cavalry to ride down and kill.

So the brave knights of the west who were used to chivalrous warfare, stood no chance against these ruthless veteran troops that made up every Mongol army.The Mongols were fierce warriors and tough men but their empire didn’t last long, with the exception of Russia. As a Chinese Officer said to Genghis Khan “that while the Mongols having captured an empire from horseback, the empire could not be ruled from horseback. ” Once Ogedai died internal struggle weakened the Mongols, so that they never again threatened Western Europe. The Mongols tactics and train of thought are still employed today by the Russian military. So their empire didn’t really disappear it was just transferred to their subjects who embraced their teachings.


Author: Marcia Mcdaniel


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