The Divine Wind
A Study of the Mongol Invasions of Japan, by William Kirsch
In World War II, as the U.S., forces moved ever closer to Japan and plans were made to invade the main islands of Japan, the Japanese attempted a desperate new strategy. Volunteers flew planes loaded with explosives into enemy ships. These suicide flights were called “kamikaze” by the Japanese, which means “divine wind”. The word “kamikaze” is a powerful one for the Japanese. It recalls a famous time in their history when another potential invader was destroyed by fierce hurricanes. These “divine winds” were thought to be sent by the gods to protect Japan, and they gave the Japanese a feeling of security and invincibility that lasted until their defeat in World War II.
That earlier invader was the Mongols. These fierce nomadic people from Mongolia swept across the civilised world during the 13th century. They shattered opposing armies in precision cavalry attacks and burned cities as far away as Poland and Egypt. Then they set their sights on Japan…
HISTORY. In 1268 Mongol envoys arrive in Japan with a message from the Mongol ruler, Kublai Khan. In the past Japan was considered too small and out-of-the-way to be worried about on the Asian mainland. No one is sure why Kublai Khan decides to bother with Japan now. Perhaps it is because the Mongols are currently fighting the Sung Dynasty in southern China, and the Japanese have good trade relations with the Sung and might offer military help. In any case, the message politely suggests that friendly relations be established. It is also subtly insulting and it hints that war will occur if the Japanese refuse.
The Japanese at this time have two centres of power. The apparent ruler is the emperor, living in Kyoto. The real ruler is the military Regent Bakufu in Kamakura. The emperor is terrified. He has heard tales from the Sung about Mongol atrocities and their military skill. But the Bakufu is insulted and defiant. The envoys are sent home without a reply, snubbing Kublai Khan’s offer. Both countries prepare for war.
The Mongols organise a fleet in Korea. The area was then known as the Kingdom of Koryu, a vassal state of the Mongols. Koryu has been racked by centuries of fighting and is impoverished. It takes years to build a fleet and find troops and supplies to put on it, but in November of 1274, the fleet is finally ready. Nine hundred ships set sail with roughly 25,000 Mongol soldiers and 15,000 Koreans.
Japan has no deep sea ships to speak of, so the fleet heads toward Japan unhindered. They first attack the island of Tsushima. The 100-man garrison is slaughtered. Next, the island of Iki falls. Again, every single soldier of the garrison is killed.
On November 19th or 20th the fleet arrives at the main Japanese island of Kyushu. They land at Imazu on Hakata Bay.
The Bakufu has had spies in Koryu and has a force of 6,000-10,000 samurai waiting at Hakata Bay, but the samurai are unfamiliar with the organized tactics of the Mongols and are hit hard by the Mongol artillery. The fighting is fierce all day, but the Mongol forces make steady progress. Japanese reinforcements are organised to be sent to Hakata Bay and there is a summons throughout the country to help repel the invaders. By the time help arrives, thought, the fighting is over. As night approaches, the surviving defenders have been pushed back to outskirts of Hakata, the modern-day city of Fukuoka. Then the Mongols reembark on their ships and put to sea.
Some historians say that the fierce storm clouds gathering caused the Mongols to reembark, but it does not make sense that they would get on a ship while a storm threatened. A better explanation is that the invaders had learned the hard way not to let the samurai get within sword-fighting range. They feared a counter-attack when the darkness made their artillery useless, so they took to the safety of their ships. To cover their retreat, they burned the shrine at Hakazaki and other villages along the coast.
The storm clouds become a hurricane. It tears through the area, scattering or sinking the ships. Two hundred ships are sunk and 13,000 soldiers never return to Koryu.
The first invasion is over.
In 1279, the Sung Dynasty in southern China falls to the Mongols. Now Kublai Khan once again turns to Japan. This time, he wants revenge for the earlier defeat. He sends more envoys with a demand for the Japanese to surrender. The Bakufu beheads them. The defeated Sung army and navy are now included as part of the new invasion force Kublai organises.
Two fleets are made ready. In Koryu, the force consists of 900 ships with 30,000 Mongol soldiers and 10,000 Koreans. In southern China, 3,500 ships are prepared, carrying 100,000 Chinese soldiers. In comparison, the mighty Spanish Armada, 300 years later, consisted of 130 ships and 27,5000 men.
The Bakufu has not been idle, however. While spies kept watch on the mainland, a wall is built around Hakata Bay. The wall is 13 miles long and about 8 feet high. It is vertical, facing the bay, but the inland side is angled to allow horses to climb it. Defences are also built elsewhere, and soldiers are stationed at Hakata, Nagato and other areas along the western coast and the inland sea.
Meanwhile, the fleet in China is delayed. The northern fleet at Koryu decides not to wait for them, and sets sail on 22 May, 1281. Again, Tsushima is the first target. The resistance is much stronger this time, but the island soon falls. Then Iki is overrun. The northern fleet is supposed to rendezvous here with the southern fleet, but instead, it heads straight for Hakata Bay.
The Japanese are waiting for them. Almost 100,000 soldiers are in Kyushu, and a reserve force of 20,000 more is in southern Honshu.
A small diversionary force sails north towards Honshu, but on the 23rd of June, the main body lands on Shiga Spit to the north of Hakata Bay and at the north end of the wall. The defenders stop them dead. After several days of fighting, only one unit manages to get a beachhead. While the invasion is stopped on land, the Japanese strike back at sea.
Although the Japanese do not have deep-sea vessels, they do have a large collection of coastal fishing boats. These are now loaded up with soldiers, and hit-and-run tactics are made on the Mongol fleet. Night and day, individual boats are boarded, the crew killed, and the ship burned. These tactics are so effective that the Mongols begin to lash their ships together and lay planks between the ships to help repel attacks.
For a week, attempts are made to land, but they are all fiercely thrown back. Finally, the fleet retreats to Iki. During this time, a fever runs through the ships. The soldiers have been forced to stay on the cramped ships since they could not land. The Mongols have also been renowned for their lack of hygiene, and to make it worse, they have brought their precious horse across the sea with them. In these unsanitary conditions, 3,000 men die of the fever.
One of the leaders, General Hong, wants to give up now, but General Kim argues that they still have two months’ rations. The northern fleet stays at Iki and waits for the southern fleet to arrive.
The fleet from China arrives a few squadrons at a time. One squadron attacks and seizes the island of Hirado Jima, while another group links up with the Korean fleet at Iki on 16 July. It is decided the next attack will be made further south. The ships at Iki move to Hirado Jima, where the entire fleet is assembled on 12 August. They move in and take the island of Takashima at the mouth of the Imari Gulf.
The hurricane strikes on 15 August. This time, 4,000 ships are lost and 100,000 men are dead.
The main islands of Japan are never again invaded.
James Murdoch writes in History of Japan that the first Mongol invasion using only 40,000 men had no chance of succeeding because a conservative estimate puts the number of Japanese fighting men in 1274 at 400,000. I have to agree with that. If Japan had been an unorganised group of fiefdoms or if the Japanese were a people that could be easily frightened, then maybe a force of 40,000 could have succeeded. But the fact was that Kublai Khan never bothered to find out much about the Japanese and decided that 40,000 could easily do the job…
MORALE. This is a very important factor. The morale of the Mongol soldiers themselves was probably pretty good. They were disciplined troops with a long history of victories. They were probably upset at being put in the role of marines instead of cavalry, but that would only make them more eager to gain a beachhead, so they could be back on dry land. Their allies were a different story.
When the King of Koryu was told to supply troops for the invasion, there were none to be found. The starving, decimated land had lost its best men in battles past. The King grabbed butches and thieves to fill the ranks. Although they probably received some rudimentary training from the Mongols, they were still a far cry from soldiers.
The Chinese soldiers were mercenaries from the Sung Dynasty. The Sung had been on good terms with Japan and had frequent trade with them. Now these soldiers were being told by the people who defeated them to attack Japan. One reason they were probably chosen to help with the invasion was because Kublai Khan wanted them out of the way. He did not want any possible insurgents in his newly conquered country. The 100,000 soldiers knew that Kublai did not care if they lived or died. Such conditions do not motivate men to fight their best.
The Japanese were highly motivated. They were well trained at individual fighting. Although the warrior’s code, the “Bushido”, had not yet been formalised, the samurai swore to give their lives in the service of their masters. Ritual suicide was already a tradition.
The Japanese now had a strong central government. If the Mongolians had invaded a hundred years earlier, they would have found a country torn by civil war, easy to divide and conquer. But the Kamakura Bakufu now had control over all the daimyos, and they moved to do the Regent’s bidding with the Emperor’s blessing.
The Japanese had also developed a sense of nationalism. In 1254, the monk Nichiren began to preach a new religion. It was a bigoted and sometimes violent religion, but it was a national religion. Nichiren preached that the Japanese should take pride in themselves and their works. No longer should they look to the mainland for new culture and religious ideas. And no longer should they think of Japan as a collection of regions and feuding families. Japan is one nation, and if the Japanese did not repent their ways, then he threatened that a foreign invasion would come! Whether he was a prophet or an astute observer of foreign politics is debatable, but his religion gained incredible popularity after the first invasion. The country was unified in defending against the Mongols.
This is not to say everyone was a patriot ready to die for the emperor. Japan had its share of cowards and rascals like any other place. After the first invasion, a notice went out from the Bakufu stating that all those who did not cooperate with the defence should be suitably dealt with. But in general, Japan took a unified stand in repelling the invasion, and could have been counted on to remain unified even if the Mongols appeared to be winning…
The History of "Chinggis’ Stone Inscription"
G. Regzen, research worker at
The Mongolian National History Museum
In 1818. Russian scholar L. N. Spaski, while studying Russia’s ancient history in Siberia, discovered an inscribed stone monument near the Kharhiraa River, in what is now the Chita province of Russia. The inscription was carved in the ancient Uighur or Monoglian script. At the time of the discovery, Spaski thought that the findings belonged to the Kuandai Ruins of ancient, Siberian Russia, not realising that the monument would amount to invaluable testimony of the Mongolian people.
It was not until after the monument was taken to St. Petersburg – breaking into two pieces along the way – in 1832 that real research began on the artefact. From that time on, the stone monument became known as “Chinggis’s Stone Inscription”, because the words “Chinggis Khaan” are the first two carved upon it. Some scholars call it “Yesunkhei’s Stone Inscription” – Yesunkhei was one of Chinggis Khaan’s nine generals – because the meaning of the inscription concerns his achievement in archery. In the year of his discovery, Spaski transcribed the five lines of script on the stone. Mongolian history scholars Schmidt and B. Dorj attempted to make out the words on the monument from 1833 to 1848, but were unsuccessful due to the time-worn conditions of the inscription. I. N. Klukin was also unable to read the monument’s more illegible marks.
One hundred and forty-four years after Spaski’s discovery, Mongolian archeologist and scholar Kh. Perlee interpreted today’s accepted reading of the monument and corrected the mistaken transcriptions of previous scholars.
The inscription can be explained in the following way:
After Chinggis Khaan conquered the Sartuul Dynasty [in Central Asia] in 1224, all Mongolian lords met on the Bukha-Sojikhai steppe. There, Yesunkhei, with a bow and arrow, hit a target from a 335-arm-span distance. [By modern estimates, a one-arm-span length is just over 1.6 metres – a total distance of over 535 metres.]
Immortalised as “Chinggis’ Stone Inscription”, the writing is significant in Mongolian history, for it represents the long-held orthographic “custom” or “rule of respect” used in old Mongolian script. The rule is that the names of leaders and lords always preface, as it were, poems and literature. The fact that Chinggis Khaan’s name appears first in the inscription shows that the rule has been in place for well over 800 years, if not longer.
The original monument is now kept in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. In 1998, Mongolian sculptors created a likeness of the original monument for the Mongolian National Museum in Ulaanbaatar.