Subotai the Valiant by Richard A. Gabriel
Despite emphasizing the speed, it is difficult to convey how fast the Mongols actually were. A random example from wikipedia:1
When Coloman and Ugrin arrived they found the Mongols unprepared and in the middle of crossing the bridge. They successfully forced them into battle and achieved a victory there. The Mongols had been unprepared for the crossbowmen, who inflicted considerable losses on them, helped by the size of the bridge, which was at least 200 meters long. ... The Hungarians left some soldiers to guard the bridge and returned to the camp, unaware that the main Mongol army was nearby. Arriving at the camp at around 02:00, they celebrated their victory. ... The unexpected Hungarian victory forced the Mongol generals to modify their plans. Sejban was sent north to a ford with a smaller force to cross the river and attack the rear of the bridge-guard. At about 04:00, as daylight started to break, they began the crossing. Meanwhile, Subutai went south to build a makeshift emergency bridge while the Hungarians were engaged at the main bridge, but left Batu a plan to use giant stone throwers to clear the crossbowmen opposing them. ... The Mongol main forces finished crossing the river around 08:00.
This deserves an intelligent serialization, cf. Wolf Hall.
Ten years of listening to the plans and arguments of senior commanders as they planned their campaigns and subsequently dissected the performance of the men in after-action reports would have given the young Subotai an excellent and very practical military education. Here he would have learned to think beyond unit tactics; to see how the tactical employment of units fit into the larger plan of the campaign, and how they in turn fit into the overall strategy. Although his own field experience at this time would have permitted him to command only smaller units, Subotai was exposed to the planning and execution of war at the operational level. The ability to conceptualize war plans and implement them on a grand scale is one of the most difficult skills for
any officer to acquire. Most never acquire this ability, something that may explain why warfare has, over the long centuries of its practice, produced only a few truly great generals. Subotai became one of those generals. His military education was unique. While he was gaining experience in different levels of tactical command, he was simultaneously being exposed over a long period to the discussions, planning, and analysis of battles at the highest levels of command
Temujin convoked an assembly of his officers to march against the Metkits. He asked ... "Who will be the first to attack?" Subotai volunteered and Temujin, noting his courage, offered to send a corps of 100 elite soldiers along with him. But Subotai opposed this saying, "I will take care of everything." Then Subotai traveled to the Merkit camp and feigned abandoning Temujin's cause. They [the Merkits] placed such confidence in what Subotai told them that they neglected to make sufficient preparation so that when the great Mongol army arrived at the Tchen River they were taken by surprise, and two of their generals were captured.'?
In 1202, Temujin conducted a campaign against the Tartars. Unlike the previous campaign in 1199, this time Temujin put an end to the Tartar threat by having each Tartar male "measured against the linchpin." All the captured Tartar males were led past the wheel of a wagon. Those who were taller than the linchpin of the wheel were beheaded; the smaller children were spared, and later taken into the Mongol armies.20 The women and young girls were turned to slavery. This practice was fairly common among the Mongols, but no one had ever employed it on such a scale before. The result was that the Tartars ceased to exist as a separate tribe.
Mongol society was organized along feudal lines. Each tribe was led by its own khan. Below the khan were the powerful barons called noyans, and below them were the bagaturs, the Mongol equivalent of knights. These constituted a military aristocracy similar to those found in Medieval Europe during the same period. Below the nobility were the majority of individual freemen. Below them were the slaves. At times entire clans that had suffered defeat in the interminable conflicts between tribes and clans were reduced to serfdom, in service to the victorious tribe. Each tribe was divided into patriarchal clans, each of which formed its own ordu. Ordu simply meant camp. In the West, the camp of the Mongols was associated with their invading armies, such that ordu became the word "horde."
The smallest unit was a troop of ten soldiers called an arban, under the command of an officer called a bagatur. Ten arbans made up a squadron of 100 called a djaghoun, and ten djaghouns composed a unit of 1,000, or a mingan. Ten mingans constituted the largest Mongol operational combat unit, the touman, consisting of 10,000 men.4 A Mongol field army would typically be two or three toumans in strength, but could be tailored to any size.
the early days of the national army, officers were elected no doubt as a concession to tribal loyalty. But as the army became larger and more complex, election to command was retained only at the arban, or lowest, level, whereas command at the higher levels was appointed based on demonstrated excellence in battle. Transfers between units were forbidden, and soldiers served their entire lives in a single unit. As in the Roman Army, this practice did much to enhance unit morale and combat cohesion.
Mongol armies moved with three remounts for each soldier in their train. Mongol commanders sometimes brought these remounts forward to march with the main body and set straw-dummies atop the remounts. At times, civilian captives were strapped to the horses. If captured members of the "infantry" were driven in front, the Mongol army would appear to be very much larger than it was. So, for example, a Mongol touman composed of 10,000 soldiers with straw dummies atop its normal complement of 30,000 remounts, and, say, 10,000 captured civilians driven before it as "infantry" would easily appear to be an army of 50,000 men, five times as large as it really was.
To be sure, most of the civilian captives were killed or turned to infantry, at least for the moment. Those among them with particular skills, most importantly the metal smiths, were either sent back to Mongolia or distributed to the combat or logistic units. Engineers and those skilled in fabricating and utilizing siege machinery were also pressed into service. But by far the most use made of captured soldiers, especially those who were already trained as horse-borne bow warriors, was to incorporate them into the Mongol force itself.
Marco Polo reported that he had seen Mongol herdsmen go ten days without cooked food, subsisting on the blood drawn from the neck veins of their horses. The Mongol soldier routinely slept in the saddle and, with his remounts, was capable of movement over great distances without rest. In 1221 C.E., for example, the army of Genghis Khan covered 130 miles in two days without stopping for food. In 1241 C.E., Subotai moved his army toward the city of Pest, in Hungary, covering 180 miles in three days through snow, again without stopping for nourishment.
The normal "iron rations" of the Mongol soldier consisted of ten pounds of dried, powdered milk curd, millet meal, and two liters of kumis, a powerful alcoholic drink made from fermented mare's milk and blood. Meat was carried under the saddle, where the heat, sweat, and movement of the horse both cured and tenderized it. At the halt, Mongol soldiers would sometimes slice a piece of this jerky-like cured meat from under the saddle for a quick snack. Witnessing this, some foreign chroniclers recorded that the Mongols actually ate meat cut from their live horses! 12 The dried milk curd was mixed with water and shaken in one of the two canteens to yield a loose yogurt. Herds of sheep, goats, yaks, and other domestic animals followed behind in the army's supply train. Apart from what the army could plunder from the vanquished, the Mongol soldier ate almost anything, including rats, lice, and even the afterbirth of foaled mares. Their habit of consuming raw intestines from freshl! y killed game, squeezing out the fecal material as they went, particularly outraged Muslims.
When encamped, officers called yurtchis (after yurt, meaning "dwelling") served as the equivalent of modern quartermasters. 16 These officers chose the campsites, organized the flow of supplies, and established and operated communications. The highest-ranking yurtchis were responsible for conducting reconnaissance and intelligence gathering. Within the camp, Chinese, Indian, and Persian physicians set up their dressing stations to treat the sick and wounded. Regular inspections of men and equipment were conducted, and the punishment for failing to keep equipment in good condition was severe. An extremely important function of the yurtchis was the care and operation of the army's camel corps, upon which it relied heavily for its supplies. While it is well known that the Mongols were great horse breeders, it is often overlooked that they were also successful camel breeders. The Mongol armies were frequently supplied by large corps of camels shuffling between supply points and ! the army.
Mechanical sophistication in siege operations never blinded the Mongols to the use of more primitive, but effective, means of assaulting cities. During the siege of Gurganj, the capital of Kazrem, thousands of local citizens were herded together for the final assault on the walls and driven by the Mongols into the city's moat. The defenders slaughtered their own countrymen in the thousands until the moat was filled with corpses upon which a ramp was constructed to assault the walls.
The Mongols seem to have been the first army to conceive of military command in a manner that stressed objectives while leaving the choice of ways and means to the unit commander, a theory of tactical application and control that the Germans later called Auftragstaktik.
Each column was preceded by screens of cavalry scouts that acted as reconnaissance units, sometimes deployed as many as seventy miles to the front of the main column. Similar units were deployed on the flanks and to the rear of the army as it marched.18 The operational principle was for the army to move divided while attempting to find the enemy. Once the enemy was located, light reconnaissance units could be used to fix it in place while the larger columns concentrated rapidly, striking the enemy at the decisive time and place or from a number of directions at once.
In set-piece battle, the first engagements were always carried out by the light cavalry, horse archers whose task it was to lay down a heavy field of "fire" to inflict as many casualties as possible prior to engagement by the heavy cavalry. European and Chinese armies relied almost entirely upon shock delivered by heavy cavalry and infantry. The Mongol horse archer attack was designed to considerably weaken the enemy force prior to the main engagement. Again and again, Mongol light cavalry would swoop down and around the packed enemy force firing into the ranks as it went. If the enemy retained its discipline and remained in place, the horse archers kept attacking until the casualty rate was so high as to render the enemy force ineffective. If the enemy attacked the Mongol archers, they would conduct an orderly and phased retreat firing backwards from their horses as they went until the pursuing enemy could be taken in the flank or head-on by the waiting Mongol heavy cavalry! . As Di Plano Carpini noted in his book, the Mongol light cavalry "wounded and killed men and horses, and only when the men and horses are worn down by the arrows, do they come to close quarters."
If the light cavalry failed to open the enemy front, the Mongols might execute a maneuver called the tulughama or standard sweep (Figure 2.7). While the heavy cavalry engaged the enemy from the front, the light cavalry sent a wing around the entire formation to engage the enemy on the flank. Sometimes the light cavalry might ride entirely around the battlefield and strike the enemy from the rear. The idea was to strike the enemy from at least two directions, confuse him, break his ranks, and then drive home the attack with the last line of heavy cavalry.21 The charge of the heavy cavalry was always the main player in the endgame of a Mongol attack. All battlefield maneuvers prior to the actual charge were carried out in complete silence with the horses moving at the speed of a "wolf-lope." Units were controlled by flags, colored lanterns, and hand sig nals. At the time of the attack, this silence was broken by the sound of the naccara, the great kettledrum that sounded the heat and tempo of the attack. The silence was suddenly shattered by hideous yells and screams as the Mongols attempted to psychologically shatter the nerve of their enemy.
Another Mongol tactic was the mangudai, in which a unit of light cavalry rode directly at the enemy center engaging in a hopeless attack. After some initial combat, and on signal, the horsemen would feign panic, break ranks, ride through their own formations, and turn and run in what seemed a disorganized manner. The idea was to entice the enemy to follow in force, something that European armies of mounted knights seeking individual glory often found irresistible. During a chase of a mile or two sufficient to allow the pursuing enemy force to lose cohesion and scatter, the Mongols waited in ambush on the flank. Suddenly, from out of the concealment, came a hail of arrows followed rapidly by the charge of heavy cavalry on rested horses.
Their tactical doctrine defined victory as nothing less than the annihilation of the enemy army. Once the enemy had been driven from the field, the Mongols sometimes pursued for weeks, until almost every enemy soldier was slain or captured. Following an old practice of the tribal wars, Mongol commanders often ordered the pursuit of defeated enemy rivals to their death. In both the Khwarizmian and European campaigns, the Mongols sent special task forces to track down and capture the enemy commanders. Operating as it usually did, at the end of long supply lines, no Mongol field army could risk leaving the remnants of an enemy army to reform and fight again and threaten their supply lines. Along with a ruthless pursuit, the Mongols would sometimes devastate the surrounding countryside.
The speed of movement of the Mongol armies was among its greatest combat capabilities, and it was a common occurrence for a Mongol touman to move hundreds of miles in a few days appearing suddenly behind the enemy army or at the gates of some fortified city deep in the enemy rear. Speed was one reason why Mongol commanders like Jehe and Subotai could take such great risks in maneuvering their forces. Given the best of circumstances, it was almost impossible for a European or Chinese army to ambush or take a Mongol touman by surprise. In the event that a Mongol commander found himself hard-pressed, the ability of his army to move quickly meant that it could almost always retreat faster than the enemy could pursue.
Outside the city of Rai (modern Tehran), Subotai's columns clashed with a loyal remnant of the Shah's army. Thirty thousand men took the field against the Mongols, but were quickly defeated. Within the city of Rai, the populace was divided into two factions, one that favored resistance and one that favored surrender. The two sides came to blows with the faction favoring the Mongols gaining the upper hand and slaughtering the other faction in the streets. Subotai rode into the city and watched with fascination as the two sides killed one another. At last, the pro-Mongol faction carried the day only to have Subotai turn his troops upon them. Who could trust such men, Subotai must have thought. And then he ordered the extermination of every male in the city.
Subotai and his army rode into Derbend and invested the fortress where Rashid, the Shah of Shirvan, had taken refuge. Subotai intended to cross the Caucasus in the dead of winter and needed provisions and guides to see him and his army across the mountains. Subotai had no interest in a long siege of the city. Rashid and the Mongols came to a quick agreement, in which the Mongols would leave the city untouched and move on across the mountains while Rashid agreed to provide fodder, supplies, food, and, most importantly, guides to lead the Mongols through the mountains. But the Muslim Shah was no fool, and he personally selected the guides from among those who could be trusted to follow his instructions. They were told to lead the Mongols over the mountains, but to do so by the longest and most difficult route possible. The Shah also sent secret messengers over the mountains by the shortest route to sound the alarm on the western steppes. Subotai may well have suspected some tr! eachery. He selected one of the chosen guides and had him beheaded as a warning to the others. As events turned out, the guides remained loyal to their instructions and led the Mongols over a tortuous route.
The Cuman chief was aware of the Mongol approach over the mountains, having been informed by one of Rashid Shah's messengers, and had raised and deployed a massive army to destroy the Mongol invaders. For one of the few times in his long military career, Subotai found himself trapped in circumstances that he did not anticipate. He could not retreat, returning over the mountains, for to do so would mean abandoning his mission and probably having to face a Muslim army raised by Rashid Shah waiting at the other end. With no means of retreat and the terrain depriving him of the ability maneuver, Subotai ordered his exhausted army into a frontal attack. Although the Mongols pressed the attack fiercely, there was no hope of breaking such a great mass of armed men. Subotai was forced to retreat back into the steep hills and to take up defensive positions with his archers behind the rocks. Yuri, Kotian's brother, and his son, Daniel, commanded the coalition of tribes and refused to ! be drawn into a Mongol ambush. Nor did they risk their troops with pointless attacks against the Mongol positions by making easy targets for the Mongol archers. Instead, the Cumans and their allies camped on both sides of the exit to the pass and settled down to await either the Mongol withdrawal back over the pass or death by starvation and exposure. In a classic example of the importance of diplomacy to military victory, Subotai dealt with the problem by guile. He sent emissaries to the Cumans with bribes of gold and horses, pointing out that the Cumans and Mongols were brothers of the steppes who had no reason to war with each other. The only true enemies of the Mongols were the Muslims and Christians. The Cuman contingent took the bribe, and stole away in the night, leaving the remaining tribal contingents at the mercy of the Mongols, who promptly slaughtered them. But Mongol scouts followed the Cumans, and when they divided their army into two contingents, each going its separate way, Subotai and Jebe closed fast after the main body, caught up with it, and slaughtered them. The treasure and the valuable horses were recovered and all of the Cuman prisoners were executed. The Mongols then attacked Astrakhan and sacked the city. The road to Russia now lay open.
The Venetians were eager to establish relations with the Mongols, whom they recognized from their military equipment, their fine Chinese-silk shirts for example, as not being a barbarian people, and answered Subotai's questions and those of his intelligence officers. Subotai had equipped his army well for its intelligence-gathering mission. Among its staff officers were Chinese scholars who had made detailed maps of the areas already traversed. From the information gathered from captured prisoners and scouting parties, maps of the lands that lay to the front were drawn. Even provisional maps of Hungary, Poland, Silesia, and Bohemia were designed, based on information provided by the Venetians. These officers even took a crude census of the area, made surveys of the crops and yields, and even compiled notes on the climate. Subotai's army traveled with doctors, diplomats, and a corps of interpreters that included an Armenian bishop. Indeed, the Muslim merchants in the Mongol b! aggage train were so efficient that they were already selling cheap copies of the Bible to the local Russians, a fact that surely impressed the Venetian merchants. By the time the Venetians left, they had signed a secret treaty with the Mongols in which traveling Venetian merchants would send back detailed reports of the economic strength and military movements in the countries they visited. In return, the Mongols promised to destroy all other trading stations in the lands in which they rode, leaving Venice with a monopoly wherever Subotai's men went.12 During the autumn and early winter of 1222, Mongol scouts and reconnaissance parties moved over the Don and Dnieper Rivers and conducted forays into the Crimea and along the Dniester River gathering information and reporting on troop movements.
For the Mongols, the strategic key to conquering Russia was to attack each principality quickly and in isolation to prevent the formation of any coalition of forces sufficiently large to oppose their military operations. Russia was a country almost without serviceable roads that could be used as axes of advance. Enormous distances, severe climatic conditions, and the scarcity of stone account for the fact that ballasted roads appeared in Russia only shortly before the railroads.`
A singular weakness of the feudal armies was that their contingents were raised individually as contributions from the barons and other vassals. As such, knights had no training in anything but individual combat. They had no experience in fighting as coordinated units. Moreover, the emphasis on the personal combat skills of the knight provided no opportunity to develop those personal skills required to lead men in battle. Although there were distinctions in social and military rank, feudal armies had no formal chain of command that could compel unit commanders to conform to the general battle plan, assuming there was someone around to draft one in the first place. As long as feudal armies fought one another, none of these obvious weaknesses had necessarily been fatal. However, when matched against an army of the sophistication and combat lethality of the Mongols, the armies of feudal Europe were hopelessly outclassed.
German military strategists saw the problem of immobility and trench warfare in yet another way. In the German view, the basic problem stemmed from the need to prepare the battlefield with days, sometimes weeks, of artillery bombardment prior to attempting a breakthrough. Long artillery bom bardment inevitably made strategic and tactical surprise impossible, making it almost certain that the depth of the defenses or the employment of the elastic defense would quickly contain any breakthrough. The German solution was the new doctrine of Blitzkrieg, which Heinz Guderian summed up in the motto, "surprise, deployment en masse, and suitable terrain."12 It is sometimes thought that the Russian emphasis on armor and frontline aviation in combat support, which came to characterize the Blitzkrieg doctrine, were copied from the Germans. In fact, it was the Germans who were introduced to Soviet doctrinal concepts, which the Germans then copied. The Rapallo Pact of 1923 between Germany ! and Russia allowed for the training of German officers and the testing of German equipment on Russian soil. This situation brought German military planners into contact with the newly developing Red Army. The Germans were greatly impressed by the new operational doctrine implemented by General Mikhail Nikolayevich Tukhachevsky (1893-1937), which emphasized the employment of forward aviation in concert with rapidly moving tank columns. They were further impressed by the advanced design of Soviet tanks, and subsequently incorporated some Soviet designs in their own tanks. The shortcoming of the Blitzkrieg doctrine was that it was a purely tactical doctrine. Western military thinking between the wars was still heavily influenced by the Napoleonic concept of war, namely, that a series of large-scale battles and victories would force the enemy to surrender or begin peace negotiations.
To the Soviets, the problem of modern warfare came down to the seizure and maintenance of the offensive over a long period of time, so that the continuing battles at the tactical level were but means to the larger strategic goal of destroying the enemy's will to resist across the whole spectrum of his forces. In short, the Soviets were the only ones to develop a concept of war that incorporated both strategic and tactical dimensions. This is the doctrine of Deep Battle, incorporated in the Field Regulations of 1936. It was the brainchild of Marshall (after his promotion) Tukhachevsky, Chief of Staff of the Red Army.
The application of military force, if sufficiently sudden and violent, often paralyzes political will. Accordingly, a rival military coalition can be prevented from forming if one strikes in such a manner as to demonstrate to potential rival coalition members that the risks of resistance are too great.
... intelligence is perhaps the most valuable asset at a commander's disposal in planning the operational conduct of a campaign.
... The institutionalization of military excellence is a valuable element of national power.
... The primacy of politics in military affairs is absolute, and often works against military effectiveness. Although the armies of the European states greatly outnumbered the Mongol invaders, these states were unable to reconcile their political and religious differences to come to the aid of Hungary.
... Resist the temptation to permit operational success to skew strategy from its original goal(s). After the battle of Liegnitz, all of Europe lay open to Mongol invasion. Yet, the Mongol commander, Kaidu Khan, did not pursue the defeated enemy. Kaidu remained concentrated upon the strategic plan, and moved his troops to Hungary to support the invasion, as planned. For the same reason, Subotai did not attack Novgorod when he had the chance, but stuck to the larger strategic objective.
... Appreciate the importance of the ambush; it is often the cheapest and most effective way to destroy an enemy force. Mongol commanders developed the ambush into high art. The ambush is normally thought of as the domain of the guerrilla, but the ambush is a particularly valuable form of combat for a highly mobile army that can concentrate quickly at the objective.
... Conduct a pursuit with audacity and lethality. Once you have the enemy on the run, move quickly to destroy him or break his will to resist.
... leave a surrounded enemy an avenue of retreat rather than cut him off entirely. As long as there is a way to survive, it is always possible that the enemy can be made to surrender. The psychology of survival is an important element in human motivation; use it to your advantage.
... An army is the instrument of the will of a single commander. The purpose of maintaining communication among various elements of an army is to permit the commander's will to direct the operational conduct of the army.
... Never let communications paralyze command. The ability of an army to communicate should never be allowed to degenerate into micromanagement by the army commander, or his staff, of lower-level combat operations.