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THE MONGOLS INVADE EASTERN EUROPE (1238-1241).

After the death of Gengis Khan in 1227 his the second surviving son, Ogadai, succeeded him in the Mongol throne. The Mongol expansion eastward was limited by the Pacific Ocean and scarcely were staying free enclaves in China and Persia. But, towards the West, the great steppes of Russia were offering to the Mongols an enormous opportunity of conquests. Using these extensive areas, which were favorable to the advance and the maintenance of his rapid hippomoviles armies. These steppes had been awarded to the grandson of Gengis, Batu. The great Mongol general Subodai urged his conquest, to strategically protect the west flank of the Empire and as possible operational headquarters for the invasion of the green plains of Hungary. These natural plains might serve in its moment for the advance in north and west directions of the Mongols tumens («divisions»), towards the conquest of the core heart of the Christian Europe.

The Prolegomenons of Europe’s Invasion.

This «strategic panoramic» insight of Subodai filled with enthusiasm the court and the Mongolian chiefs. And, this way, Ogadai provided the general with around 50 thousand veteran men, under Batu’s nominal control, to conquer the steppes of the west Russia. In the winter of 1237, the Mongols crossed the frozen Volga and penetrated in Russia. The Mongol army was reaching 120 thousand light and heavy riders, with auxiliaries and luggages. Including their catapults for the heavy fire and the means of siege and to construct these. And it had increased with the recruitments of Turkoman realized in the advance route and authorized by Ogadai. The quality of this reinforcement for the Batu and Subodai’s army was deficient and variable, in comparison with the Imperial tumens.

During the following 3 years, the Mongols systematicly destroyed the feudal Russian kingdoms of the west. Using the frozen rivers as broad and long routes without obstacles to deeply penetrate in them and to positionally dislocate the enemy defenders forces. With the capture of Kiev in December, 1240, the rest of the Russian organized resistance disappeared. And the Mongols were reaching in force the Carpathians mounts, the natural obstacle that was protecting Hungary.

Resultado de imagen de BATTLE of buda and pest 1241

Though in this epoch, in the beginning of the Low Middle Ages, the European leaders did not know practically anything on the Mongols, both the general Subodai and the prince Batu were regularly informed about the difficult political European situation. In effect, in February, 122, Subodai and Jebe, at the command a corps army of 20 thousand Mongols initiated a reconnaissance in force of two years in the western Russian steppes, looking for advance routes for the Mongol armies towards Europe. There they recruited a permanent and well paid spies’ network in different nations. And they realized a secret alliance with Venice, for which, in exchange for relevant information about the geography and the always changeable politics of the European states, Venice would get a trade monopoly in the Mongol conquered territories.

In January, 1241, Subodai concentrated the army around Lvov and Przemysl, close to the river San, tributary of the Vístula. This «strategic departure base» was at the north of the Carpathians and at a distance of 300 km to the Hungarian Danube. To realize the invasion, the army only was possessing then 100 thousand men. The reason was that it had to keep occupation detachments in the Russian west and to protect its communications towards his base. The operational gravity center of these were the mountain passes of the Carpathians towards the south, towards Hungary.

That were defined by the Tisza and his tributaries network, which were forming the Carpathians valleys. But the advance of the Mongols towards Gran, the great capital at that time, at 40 km to the northwest of Buda and Pest, all on the Danube, would leave the invading army exposed to an operational counterattack of the Germans, Austrians, Bohemians or Poles. That might fall down on his right flank and eastward communications. Threatening them, this way, with serious losses or isolating them from their base, being able to surround some Mongol detachments.

The Mongol worry towards the enemy was generally strategic, thinking about their exposed flanks at the level of the occupied countries. This worry was originated in his always exiguous number of riders for the entrusted or looked aims. And also in the not tactical invincibility of his forces, if were meeting an organized, skilful enemy, who was using opportunely and effectively his heavy and light cavalries, and calm to resist their tricks and feints. The Europeans only were possessing the heavy cavalry. Where his nobles and chiefs fighted and around which, as main weapon, his infantry armed retinues and armies were articulated. This way, Gengis Khan, in 1221, after the conquest of the Moslem empire of Samarqand, placed approximately between the Sir Daria and the Amur Daria, systematicly plundered Afghanistan. And his son Tului killed most of the inhabitants of the north of Persia (Khorasan). With it they were protecting the south flank of the brand-new empire.

The Beginnings of the Invasion of 1241.

To defend this flank of the mentioned assaults, Subodai divided his army in 2 «very asymmetric army corps». The principal corps would carry out the invasion of Hungary and the auxiliary, small corps, would fulfill the double mission of clear the European threats to his advance on those Hungarian cities and his communications with the Carpathians. The auxiliary army, at the orders of the princes Baidar and Kadan and formed by 2 tumens, advanced first, in March, 1241 and, crossing the Vistula by Sandomir, surprised the Poles. But, to separate them from Hungary, «they» had «to allow» his mobilization and later concentration. This way, dividing his meager forces, Kadan advanced through Poland in northwest direction. Seeking to extend the alarm and the consternation for all his interior and «to threaten» the German States placed at the west of the Oder.

Resultado de imagen de Mongolians attack Pest

For his part, Baidar went in southwest direction, directly towards Cracow, the capital, burning and plundering everything what could at his passage, to attract on his detachment the enemy attention. And, suddenly, close to Cracow, the Mongols stopped and initiated in a short time their retreat, following the opposite direction to the previous advance. They were simulating this way to be a small incursion force, possibly explorer, already moving back to his base. The Polish cavalry forces, concentrated for the defense of Cracow, did not recognize the rapid retrograde enemy march as a tactical trick. And, filled of a warlike ardor that was inflaming their senses, they were thrown after what they thought that it was a great victory already in their hands. This way, they left their positions under the protection of the infantry and the walls of Cracow, to realize a frontal warm pursuit. Without before having really beaten their enemy and leaving in hands of the wind all the due precautions. On having seen them, the Mongols accelerated their march and even left their prisoners, with what the Poles saw insured the «reality» of his conjectures. But in Chmielnik, at 18 km from the capital, a very ungrateful surprise was waiting for them. The whole Mongol light cavalry, conceal for the distant sights and deployed forming a half moon with his checkered detachments, began to throw clouds of arrows with piercing punch arrowtips, that easily penetrated in the armors and protections of the Polish mounts and riders. The majority of these simply died. The inhabitants of Cracow, when the news came, terrified fled in mass, and the Mongols, reaching the Polish capital, set it on fire.

Baidar continued up to Breslau, the Silesia’s capital, where found that the population had lit fire to the city and sheltered in the citadel. There he knew that in Liegnitz, at 65 km to the west, Henry, the king of Silesia, had formed a very heterogeneous army of 25 thousand men to attack them. He also knew that the king Wenceslao of Bohemia was going with his army of 50 thousand men to meet Henry. Baidar decided to rapidly go to Liegnitz, to prevent the meeting of both enemy armies. In the way, Kadan and his mobile detachment, which already had completed his mission of general grieve the Poles and Eastern Germans, joined him. Both tumens reached Liegnitz on April 8, 1241. The 9th, the king Henry went immediately to facing them. He did not know that Wenceslao and his army were situated at only a day of march. In times of difficult and precarious communications, the ignorance, which is rash for its simplification, was replacing the lacks of information with own elaborations, based on the greed and the dread. His army deployed near the city in a plain.

Resultado de imagen de Mongolians attack Pest BATTLE OF LIEGNITZ

When the Mongol vanguard appeared in the horizon, Henry sent a small detachment to reject it. But a rain of arrows made it to move back to his rows. The king counter-attacked with all his cavalry. The Mongol vanguard, saw threatened, avoided the immediate contact and moved back. In what looked like to the knights an escape, after having kept the calm opposite to minor forces. The charge of the Silesian cavalry transformed in a career at full gallop, being disorganized and dispersed, looking for his prey. The Mongol archers were waiting for them in calmness, provided with their perforating cuirasses arrows. When the Silesian riders were inside their effective range, the Mongol archers covered them with arrows, knocking down many people and pulliing up sharply their clumsy assault. Already beaten the knights, the Mongol heavy cavalry charged against them and dissolved them. In turn, the light cavalry, screened by smoke bombs in his sector of advance, threw against the Silesian infantry, that were waiting at the end of the deployment. Behind, the Mongol heavy riders also charged, knocking down everything at their steps and killing the king Henry of Silesia.

When Wenceslao known about the disaster of the Silesians, stopped his march and moved back to protect Bohemia. Receiving for it reinforcements of the kingdoms of Saxony and Thuringia. The allied army formed in Klodzko, close to the gorges of the river Glatz, at 100 km to the south-east of Liegnitz. But, the Mongol reconnaissance detachments warned their princes of the dangers of those. In addition, the Mongol army corps had suffered enough losses in his raids and previous battles. In that moments, in less than one month of operations, 20 thousand Mongols had crossed around 650 km in enemy territory and gained 2 decisive battles. Poland was beaten and shocked and the Germans at the west of the Oder were moving back and preparing to defend their kingdoms.

The Bohemians, still intact, were at 400 km from the Hungarian defensive positions in the Danube. For what their army was operationally ineffective to achieve the decision in the Mongol attack to Hungary. To make sure of Wenceslao’s «intention», the Mongols realized a demonstration towards the west, inside Germany. Wenceslao pursued them. At a decided moment, the tumens deployed in small and slippery detachments. And, forming an almost invisible cloud for the enemy, they slipped for both sides of the Bohemian army and moved away from this.

In his retreat to meet Subodai, the Mongols crossed for Moravia, destroying his settlements, stores and fields. This way, they created a wide desert plateau, which would protect furthermore the right flank of the principal Mongol corps. On having left these lands unable to support for a time an army crossing it. In this secondary campaign Baidar and Kadan managed to eliminate any possibility that the Czechs, the Germans, the Poles and the Austrians were sending their troops in aid of the Hungarians. And they did it taking and keeping the initiative against a very numerous enemy, who was acting unco-ordinated. Whose principal weapon was the heavy cavalry, that acted only by the shock. And operating with a greater operational movement capacity, protected by the secrecy and the concealment, supported by a sufficient and constant information. And using in the combats decided by them the whole repertory of the tactics and technics of their cavalry, which were almost incomprehensible for the Europeans. And they could come in time of rejoining with Subodai’s corps at almost the end of the Hungarian campaign.

(TO BE CONTINUED)


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Enrique Alonso nació en La Habana. Tras el establecimiento del régimen comunista se trasladó a España, licenciándose en Ciencias Químicas en la Universidad de Oviedo.

Es titulado por la Universidad Complutense en Química y Tecnología del Petroleo (dos cursos) y en Logística por la Cámara de Comercio de Madrid (un curso). Ha realizado su labor profesional durante más de 30 años en REPSOL y empresas anteriores, absorbidas posteriormente. Su trabajo se centró en la investigación de lubricantes (Centro de Investigación de la calle Embajadores), el área comercial y la logística de lubricantes (unas 100 mil Tm. al año de productos a granel y envasados, con un presupuesto total de unos 1000 millones de ptas).

Ha sido colaborador en la década de los 80, del diario Pueblo y, a través de la agencia EFE, de diversos diarios españoles e hispanoamericanos en temas de política internacional y militares.

Es autor de la novela “Operación Elefante”, publicada en 1982, que trata minuciosa y extensamente de las operaciones y tácticas de las guerrillas y contraguerrillas en la Angola socialista prosoviética de Agostinho Neto, apoyada desde 1975 por tropas cubanas. 

En 2005 publicó en inglés el ensayo “On the Nature of War”, que es una teoría de la guerra basada en el desarrollo y la aplicación práctica de 10 “sistemas operativos”.

Actualmente es colaborador permanente de la revista española War Heat International.

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