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Giant wooden stakes from the Battle of Bach Dang found in northern Vietnam.          Source: vnexpress

Iron Tipped Stakes Detail Guerrilla Warfare of Bach Dang


Newly-discovered ´massive´ and ancient wooden stakes are adding to archaeologists knowledge of the famous Battle of Bạch Dang, when Vietnam repelled the Mongol war fleet by luring ships into a booby-trapped river.

Last Wednesday, several giant ironwood stakes which were used in the legendary ´Battle of Bạch Dang’ fought in AD 1288 were discovered in northern Hai Phong City, in the Cao Quy rice field, Lien Khe Commune, Thuy Nguyen District.

Opening a fresh direction of enquiry into the historic battle, the poles were excavated from a 950-square-meter archaeological site and the excavators told Southeast Asian Archaeology that this is a large-scale, ´important finding´ related directly to the Tran Dynasty’s famous Bach Dang Battle against an invasion by Mongolia’s Yuan Dynasty.

Excavations on a large site has uncovered ironwood poles in the Cao Quy rice field, Lien Khe Commune, Thuy Nguyen District. (Image: vnexpress)

Excavations on a large site has uncovered ironwood poles in the Cao Quy rice field, Lien Khe Commune, Thuy Nguyen District. (Image: vnexpress)

The Bach Dang battle plan

According to a Vietnam News article, rather than being an isolated river battle, historian Le Van Lan noted the discovery of the giant stakes show that the AD 1288 battle was actually a ´highly strategic´ three-phase guerrilla operation. According to Le Van Lan the first phase saw the deployment of soldiers to ´exhaust the enemies resources and strength´ and phase two involved Vietnamese soldiers blocking the Mongolian fleet from taking a shortcut via creeks, forcing them to go to the Bach Dang River, and the final phase was the famous Battle of Bạch Dang.

The Battle of Bạch Dang was the last confrontation between Đại Việt and the Yuan Dynasty and was arguably the greatest victory in Vietnamese military history, occurring on the Bach Dang River, near Ha Long Bay in present-day northern Vietnam. Regarded as a tactical masterpiece, Đại Việt was led by the Supreme Commander Trần Hưng Đạo and the invading army of the Yuan Dynasty was commanded by general Omar Khan.

The Battle of Bach Dang, 1288. (Public Domain)

The Battle of Bach Dang, 1288. (Public Domain)

Divide and Conquer

Beginning from March 1288 AD, Trần Hưng Đạo began set up the battlefield copying the guerrilla tactics tested by Ngô Quyền against the Chinese in AD 938. After studying the tidal conditions he ordered his soldiers to hammer massive iron-headed poles into the Chanh, Kênh and Rút rivers beds, then arranged a series of river ambushes.

The Vietnamese planned to block the enemy Mongol ships when the tide withdrew and Đại Việt's smaller fleet secretly stationed themselves behind Ghềnh Cốc, Ðồng Cốc, Phong Cốc and on the Khoái, Thái, Gia Ðước, and Ðiền Công rivers. When they attacked the invading Yuan forces in Thăng Long, the Mongols suffered an acute shortage of food forcing Prince Toghan to retreat to Vạn Kiếp. This was when Đại Việt's army recaptured a number of locations occupied by the Mongol invaders forcing the Mongol army to split and into two smaller units.

Painting of Trần Hưng Đạo, Nguyen Dynasty. (Public Domain)

Painting of Trần Hưng Đạo, Nguyen Dynasty. (Public Domain)

Block and Destroy

The Mongols finally reached Bach Dang to find all the bridges and roads had been destroyed and further attacks were launched by Đại Việt's troops when they tried to retreat further. They then found their movement restricted by the vast iron-tipped stakes protruding out of the low tide while the escape routes were all blocked by Đại Việt's large warships.

A sudden strong and final attack caused the Mongols to withdraw to sea but some of the terrified Mongolian troops jumped onto the banks where they were dealt a heavy blow by a large army led by the Trần king and Trần Hưng Đạo who were highly trained in hand-to-hand combat. The supply fleet of the Yuan Dynasty was totally destroyed and Omar was captured and executed by the Vietnamese.

Greatest Victory in Vietnamese History

After the famous defeat, the Mongols and the Vietnamese agreed to exchange prisoners of war and while the emperor Nhân Tông agreed to pay tribute to the Yuan relations, the question of who would attend the Yuan court sparked of new troubles.

The Tran Dynasty eventually submitted to the Yuan Dynasty causing state-wide celebrations and it also inspired the surrounding minor Asian nations to revolt against the Mongols. It is for this role in stopping their seizure of the entirety of South Asia that this battle is known as one of Vietnam's greatest victories in its military history.

Top image: Giant wooden stakes from the Battle of Bach Dang found in northern Vietnam.          Source: vnexpress

By Ashley Cowie

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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