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In 1284, Kublai Khan leads a 500,000-man Chinese army into Viet Nam. Guerrillas organized by Tran Hung Dao virtually destroy the invasion force.
First Mongol Defeat: (1257)
At the beginning of the 13th century, Genghis Khan, having unified Mongolia, started a war of conquest against China. In 1253, Kublai conquered the Dai Ly kingdom (now Yunnan province), thus reaching the Vietnamese frontier. The Mongols demanded passage through Viet Nam (was Dai Viet) in order to attack Sung from the south (1257), but the Tran refused. A Mongol army invaded Viet Nam, smashed its defences, and seized the capital Thang Long, which was burnt to the ground. The Tran king left the capital and abandoned its inhabitants. A Vietnamese counter-offensive drove the Mongols out of the capital. In retreat the enemy was attacked by local partisans from an ethnic minority group living in the Phu Tho region.
Second Mongol Defeat: (1284-1285)
Once they had become the overlords of China, the Mongols grew more and more demanding towards Viet Nam. Despite concessions by the Tran, the Mongol court remained intransigent, dreaming of conquering both Viet Nam and Champa.
In 1284, Kublai started a powerful expedition against Viet Nam and Champa. Under the command of his son Toghan (Thoa't Hoan), 500,000 cavalrymen and infantrymen were to rush southward to push the frontiers of the Mongol empire to the southernmost part of the Indochina peninsula.
King Tran Nhan Tong was aware of the enemy's strategy. As early as 1282 he has assembled and consulted all the princes and dignitaries on the action to be taken; their unanimous response was to fight. Prince Quoc Toan, only 16 years old, recuited 1,000 men to go to the front. By 1283, all princes and dignitaries were ordered to put their troops under the command of Tran Hung Dao. A congress of village elders from all over the country was convened, and the following question put to them: "Should we be capitulated or fight?" A great cry rose from the assembly: "Fight!"
At the close of 1284, the Mongols crossed the frontier. The Vietnamese force, totalling a mere of 200,000 men, was unable to withstand the first onslaught. Tran Hung Dao ordered the evacuation of the capital and was asked by the king: "The enemy is so strong that a protracted war might bring terrible destruction down upon the people. Wouldn't it be better-to lay down our arm to save the population?" The general answered: "I understand Your Majesty's humane feelings perfectly, but what would become of our country ancestors' land, and of our forefather's temples? If you want to surrender, please have my head cut off first".
to be continued...
Third Mongol Defeat: (1288)
to be continued...
Third Battle at Bach-dang River (April 3, 1288)
Tran Bach Dang by Artist Nang Hien
References: Viet Nam A Long History
Stamp from North Viet Nam commemorates Tran Hung Dao.