The Japanese word ‘Ghenko’ is the term employed for the Mongol invasion of Japan. The event was an immensely significant one for the Japanese and it remained so for centuries because, in part, the defeat of the invaders was attributed to divine intervention. There can be little doubt that Japan’s salvation had much to do with the fact that they are an island race and in that they have much in common with other islanders, Great Britain among them, who on more than one occasion might claim the sea as their principal and most powerful ally. Indeed. the author of this book draws parallels with Britain and the Spanish Armada. The Mongols had rapidly risen to power during the 13th century and had created an unstoppable empire that spread over huge areas of land from the Yellow Sea of Asia to the Danube in Europe. Although massively stronger than the Japanese, the Mongols attacked the Japanese islands, attempting domination by invasion and yet were repulsed with finality. To modern students of military history the contents of this book has a compelling allure, since there can be no doubt that in the Mongol warrior and the Japanese Samurai there resided a martial spirit and expertise which, perhaps inevitably, could not both exist in the same sphere, but which in collision could not fail to instigate conflict of the most singular kind. This account of the clash between the ultimate warriors of their day analyses this time of warfare in superb detail. An essential addition to the library of anyone interested in the warfare of the East.
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Through the use of superior weapons the enemy stepped ashore without great loss, marshalled their ranks and advanced in phalanx, which also was a novelty to the Japanese, protecting themselves most effectually with their shields. They do not appear to have been much distressed by either the crossbows or the longbows of the defenders, but they covered their own advance with a host of archers shooting clouds of poisoned arrows, which the Japanese never at any time of their history used, despising them as depraved and inhuman weapons. The Mongolian shafts harassed them terribly; still all the Japanese soldiers fought according to their own etiquette of battle. A humming arrow, the sign of commencing the combat, was shot. The Mongols greeted it with a shout of derision. Then some of the best fighters among the Japanese advanced in the usual dignified, leisurely manner and formulated their traditional challenge. But the Mongol phalanx, instead of sending out a single warrior to answer the defiance, opened their ranks, enclosed each challenger, and cut him to pieces. The invaders moved in unchanging formation, obeying signals from their commanding officers, who watched their evolutions from an eminence.<br>
Under such circumstances a hundred horsemen dashed simultaneously at the phalanx, and ninety-nine were slain. The best fighters among the defeated furiously rushed into the enemy’s ranks, and each killed six or seven of their opponents, but the shortage was soon made up by the enemy with their fresh forces from the ships. In this manner the battle continued all day long.<br>
Before sunset, even the bravest of the Japanese warriors were worn out by the long battle; still, sustained by their spirits on the brink of death, they gallantly confronted the foe. Towards the evening, when the enemy’s flank advanced near the pine-tree groves, some single combats began. Naturally the Japanese combatants won the bloody game and beheaded their enemies by hundreds. A knight named Sukesada brought twenty-four Mongols under his own sword; he was the last to give up his place, but meanwhile the others’ retreat led him into a cul-de-sac. He was utterly tired out, so he took his seat upon an enemy’s corpse nearby and exclaimed chivalrously, “Now then, my task is over. Where is my master? There let me go and die.”<br>
In answer to this a Mongol warrior of enormous height suddenly appeared from a bush hard by. “Come you, Japanese, let me fight!” shouted the enemy, whose body was protected by a splendid coat of mail and a helmet, and he held his big sword directly over his head.<br>
“Agreed!” returned the dauntless Japanese merrily. Several strokes were exchanged in hot strife, but the skilled defender, seizing an unguarded moment of his assailant, dealt him a heavy and mortal blow upon the shoulder, and he at once fell to the ground covered with blood.<br>
This animated scene had been earnestly observed from both quarters in the field. Not only did the Japanese side raise a loud cheer, but even their enemies applauded. Sukesada then cried, holding down the defeated man under his feet, “Ye coward Mongols! come and challenge me again!” But no Mongol was so daring as to run alone out of his rank; but they answered him with a simultaneous discharge of their horrible arrows, and three of them went right into the hero’s breast, and the bravest of the brave was gone.<br>
And so, one after another, the valiant warriors went to death, while the enemy’s gaps were soon filled from the sea; but the defenders had no reserve. Governor So, who had been commanding the garrisons, shouting to his troops and stimulating their martial spirit, and had already been wounded, now appeared on horseback leading a band of cavalry, in the quarter where Sukesada, his best general, was slain. But the place had been occupied by the most powerful wing of the enemy. All at once the forlorn hope charged upon their innumerable foes, all the horsemen brandishing their razor-like blades.<br>
This was the most terrible scene of all, and also the final stage of the day’s battle. The whole enemy army assembled in the quarter where governor So’s band, the only remnant of the Japanese force, delivered their charge. The ear of heaven was deafened with the din of the Mongol drums, the earth shook at the tempest of war cries. Ah! Where is our forlorn hope that rode into the jaws of death? The shafts began to fall like raindrops of spring, and blood flowed till the field looked like a crimson sea. Where is the brave band of Sukekuni of So, in the smoke of the guns or in the clouds of arrows? They were no more seen in the isle; all that came into sight again out of the smoke were a few masterless horses, returning and neighing for their empty camps.<br>
Ere the evening mist came over the scene every field along the coast was occupied by the enemy, who destroyed every rampart of the powerless defenders, faithful in keeping their land to the last. As soon as the strongest band of So-no-Sukekuni fell under showers of arrows and balls, the triumphant force rushed into the town like a torrent, captured all the male survivors in severe conflicts, and had them all slain. Most of the females are said to have been carried into their ships, except those who lived in the palace of Governor So, who, before the enemy dashed into their chambers, committed suicide to save their honour from the barbarians’ hands. It is recorded that the enemy brought back more than 1,000 heads of Japanese fighters into their ships, and not less than 6,000 of the natives had been slaughtered in a single day.<br>
They fired every quarter of the town, and reducing it into ashes, off they went toward their fleet, doubtless in great triumph. But they did not occupy the isle too long; for they had the Isle of Iki to storm at once before reinforcements arrived from the mainland, and they had also to make their general advance into the latter before the news of their attacks on the two isles were known. They kept Tsushima under their strict vigilance by sea and land, so that no communication outside could be made by any survivors. Their military order and spirit having been perfectly restored, the formidable squadron, as big as before, moved far southward to make a heavy attack upon the Isle of Iki. It was about a fortnight after the first attack on the ill-fated isle.<br>
The next isle the Mongol armada went to attack was situated less than fifty miles southward, and less than half the distance northward from the upper coast of Kiushu.<br>
As a matter of course, the Isle of Iki seemed just like a prey in sight of an eagle that soars high in the heavens. The governor of the isle was called Sayemon-no-Jo Kagetaka. He loved his subjects as if they were his children. Informed of what had happened at Tsushima, he despatched a quick boat to Dazai-fu in Kiushu to report the Mongol attack on Tsushima, and urgently asked for reinforcements to be sent. At the same time he called all his men to arms.