Badass of the week: Trấn Hưng Đạo

If you haven’t read Badass of the week (also in book form), Ben Thompson writes the humorously exaggerated achievements of military figures in history that are based on historical fact. Here, he writes about Trấn HÆ°ng Đạo, who in the 13th century successfully repelled the Mongol invasion of Vietnam, particularly in the rout at Bach Dang River.

Badass of the week: Trấn Hưng Đạo
BadassoftheWeek.com

Kublai was fucking pissed, and in 1287 he came back to finish the job. This time, however, the main thrust of his attack was a massive naval invasion of 500 gigantic Chinese-built warships sailing up the Bach Dang River into the heart of Vietnam. This ridiculous armada hauled ass towards the center of the Vietnamese countryside, bypassing the jungles and swamps that had caused the land forces so much trouble, and this time around all that stood in their way was a tiny, rag-tag fleet of flat-bottomed Vietnamese ships that resembled canoes rather than badass war frigates. The Mongols took one look at this pathetic Vietnamese navy and ordered a full-scale attack. The Vietnamese fought back for a short while, but it was obvious they were totally outclassed so they dropped their shit ran for it like crazy. The Mongols pursued, eager to crush their enemies once and for all.

Then the tide went out. And, unfortunately for our pals the Mongols, in the days leading up to the battle Tran had planted a bunch of gigantic fucking scary-looking bronze-tipped bamboo spikes in the river bed, basically turning the entire river into a nasty aquatic punji pit. The small Vietnamese boats were fine, but the Mongol ships were immediately impaled – those that didn’t sink outright were hung up like piñatas waiting to be whacked into debris.

It was then that the fire boats showed up. Dozens of burning ships, sailing straight into the middle of the Mongol formation, lighting everything they passed on fire and then crashing into the helpless enemy vessels. As if that wasn’t enough, Tran had also pre-positioned archers on the river banks, and once the trap was sprung those suckers started pelting the fleet with fire arrows as well, turning one of the largest invasion fleets in Medieval history into basically one gigantic raging inferno of charred wood and burning corpses. The Mongols lost 400 ships and 80,000 men in a single day – including their Admiral, who was captured and executed (Kublai’s own son only survived by hiding in a drainage ditch). The Vietnamese lost 4,000 soldiers.

Full story here.


Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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