Battle of Bạch Đằng (1288)

For other articles of the same title, see Battle of Bạch Đằng.
Battle of Bạch Đằng (1288)
Part of the Mongol-Vietnamese War

The Battle of Bạch Đằng
LocationBạch Đằng, present northern Vietnam
Result Decisive Vietnamese Victory
Trần dynasty Yuan dynasty
Commanders and leaders
Trần Hưng Đạo
Trần Khánh Dư
Omar Khan  (POW)
50,000+ 80,000 regular troops
30,000 tribal auxiliaries from Yunnan and Hainan
a 1,000-man vanguard
500 ships[1]
Casualties and losses
Unknown Almost all ships destroyed or captured

The Battle of Bạch Đằng (Vietnamese: Trận Bạch Đằng, Chữ nôm: 陣白藤) was one of the greatest victories in Vietnamese military history. It was a battle between Đại Việt, commanded by Supreme Commander Trần Hưng Đạo, and the invading army of the Yuan dynasty, commanded by general Omar Khan. The Battle of Bạch Đằng was the last confrontation between Đại Việt and the Yuan dynasty.[2] The battle took place at the Bach Dang River, near Ha Long Bay in present-day northern Vietnam. The battle was a tactical masterpiece of the same stature as the other battle at Bach Dang River.


In 1287 the Yuan commander Toghan, a son of Kublai Khan, invaded Vietnam for the third time. Under his command were 70,000 regular troops, 21,000 tribal auxiliaries from Yunnan and Hainan, a 1,000-man vanguard under the general Abachi, and 500 ships under the Muslim Omar (Vietnamese: Ô Mã Nhi) and Chinese Fanji (according to some sources, the Mongol force was composed of 300,000–500,000 men). After the defeat of the first two invasions, Kublai sent veterans such as Arigh Khaiya, Nasir al-Din and his grandson Esen-Temür. The invading force employed a different strategy as well; a huge base was to be established just inland from Hải Phòng, and a large-scale naval assault was mounted as well as the standard land assault. The Vietnamese forces, led by Trần Hưng Đạo, employed a Fabian strategy. They withdrew from inhabited areas, leaving the Mongols with nothing to conquer, and focused on harassing the invading army. A fleet prepared to bring provisions to Toghan's army by maritime route was ambushed and burned by the admiral Trần Khánh Dư. Lacking supplies, Toghan retreated through the Bạch Đằng River, intending to return to China. Trần Hưng Đạo, aware of the Yuan retreat, prepared an attack.

The plan

The Bạch Đằng River ran through Yen Hung district (in Quảng Ninh province) and Thuy Nguyen (in Hai Phong) before reaching the sea. This was where the earlier well-known battle of Ngô Quyền against the Southern Han (Nanhan) had taken place in 938. Beginning from March, Trần Hưng Đạo began preparing the battlefield. He used the same tactic that Ngô Quyền had used against the Chinese in 938. He studied the tidal lore, and ordered beds of stakes to be planted under the water and arranged ambushes in a unified plan of campaign.

Trần Hưng Đạo ordered his soldiers to nail the iron-headed poles under the waters of the Chanh, Kênh and Rút rivers. All three rivers are the northern distributaries of the Bach Dang River. Ghềnh Cốc is a reef located across the Bach Dang to the bottom of Chanh river and to the top of Kênh river. Ghềnh Cốc was used as a place for the ambush, in collaboration with the underwater iron-headed poles. They were to block the enemy ships when the tide withdrew. Đại Việt's small flotilla secretly stationed behind Ghềnh Cốc, Ðồng Cốc, Phong Cốc and on the Khoái, Thái, Gia Ðước, Ðiền Công river. The army deployed in Hung Yen, along the left bank of the river Bach Dang and Tràng Kênh, at the right bank of Bach Dang River and Mount Ðá Vôi.

The battle

As was foreseen, the invading Yuan forces in Thăng Long suffered an acute shortage of food. Without any news about the supply fleet, Prince Toghan found himself surrounded and had to order his army to retreat to Vạn Kiếp. This was when Đại Việt's army began the general offensive by recapturing a number of locations occupied by the Mongol invaders. Groups of partisans were given orders to harass the enemy in Vạn Kiếp, putting them at a loss. The Mongol prince had to split his army into two and retreat.

In early April the supply fleet led by Omar, and escorted by infantry, fled home along the Bạch Đằng river. As bridges and roads were destroyed and attacks were launched by Đại Việt's troops, the Mongols reached Bạch Đằng. Đại Việt's small flotilla provoked and harassed the Yuan formation to wait for the tide to recede. The Mongols cautiously engaged their opponent, fearing an ambush while missing their chance to escape the arranged trap. Soon they found their movement restricted by iron-tipped stakes protruding out of the low tide while the escape routes had been blocked by Đại Việt's large warships. Đại Việt's troops took to boarding and hand-to-hand actions with the aid of fast fire ships and missile weapons, fiercely launched the attack and broke the combat formation of the enemy. Inflicted with a sudden and strong attack, the Mongols tried to withdraw to the sea in panic. Frightened, the Mongolian troops jumped down to get to the banks where they were dealt a heavy blow by a large army led by the Trần king and Trần Hưng Đạo.

The supply fleet of the Yuan dynasty was totally destroyed, and Omar was captured and executed by the Vietnamese.

At the same time, Đại Việt's army made continuous attacks and destroyed Toghan's army on its route of withdrawal through Lạng Sơn. Toghan risked his life making a shortcut through forests to flee home.

17th-century model of a Vietnamese "mông đồng" fighting boat, a type which probably had constituted much of the Vietnamese naval fleet 400 years earlier


Upon receiving news of the Mongol defeat, Kublai angrily banished Toghan to Yangzhou for life. The Mongols and the Vietnamese agreed to exchange their war prisoners. While the emperor Nhân Tông was willing to pay tribute to the Yuan, relations again foundered on the question of attendance at the Yuan court and hostile relations continued.

The Trần Dynasty eventually decided to accept the supremacy of the Yuan dynasty in order to avoid further conflicts. Because he refused to come in person, Kublai detained his envoy, Dao-tu Ki, in 1293. Kublai's successor Temür Khan (r.1294-1307), finally released all detained envoys, settling instead for a tributary relationship, which continued until the end of the Yuan dynasty.

See also


  1. Atwood, Christopher Pratt (2004), Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol empire, New York: Facts On File, p. 579, ISBN 0-8160-4671-9
  2. Patricia M. Pelley Postcolonial Vietnam: New Histories of the National Past - Page 185 - 2002 "Presiding over the commemorative ceremony, Tran Huy Lieu began: "Not only did the battle of Bạch Đằng conclude the ... army against the Mongol invaders, it also brought all the Mongol invasions that took place between 1257 and 1288 to an ..."

Further reading

External links

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