Battle of Bạch Đằng (938)
|Battle of Bạch Đằng|
|Vietnamese people (Tĩnh Hải quân)||Southern Han|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Ngô Quyền||Liu Yan
Liu Hongcao †
|150,000+||100,000+|
At the Battle of Bạch Đằng River in 938 the Vietnamese forces, led by Ngô Quyền, defeated the invading forces of the Southern Han state of China and put an end to centuries of Chinese imperial domination in Vietnam. It took place at the Bạch Đằng River, near Hạ Long Bay in northern Vietnam.
In 937, Liu Yan (Chinese: 劉龑; Vietnamese: Lưu Nham), the Southern Han ruler, took the chance to intervene in Vietnam again after the death of the Annam Lord Protector Dương Đình Nghệ. He had been foiled by Dương Đình Nghệ in 931, but now that Dương Đình Nghệ was dead, he thought the time was ripe for another attempt. He placed his own son, Liu Hongcao (Chinese: 劉弘操; Vietnamese: Lưu Hoằng Tháo), in command of the expedition, naming him "Peaceful Sea Military Governor" and "King of Giao." He hastily assembled an army at Sea Gate, where he personally took charge of the reserve force. He ordered Liu Hongcao to embark the army and sail to Giao.
By the time Liu Hongcao arrived in Vietnamese waters with the Southern Han expedition, Liu Hongcao's plan was to ascend the Bạch Đằng River and to place his army in the heart of Giacannoto Chau before disembarking; the Bạch Đằng was the major riverine route into the Red River plain from the north.
Ngô Quyền anticipated this plan and brought his army to the mouth of the river. He had his men plant a barrier of large poles in the bed of the river. The tops of the poles reached just below the water level at high tide and were sharpened and tipped with iron. When Liu Hongcao appeared off the mouth of the river, Quyen sent out small, shallow-draft boats at high tide to provoke a fight and then retreat upriver, drawing the Chinese fleet in pursuit. As the tide fell, the heavy Chinese warboats were caught on the poles and lay trapped in the middle of the river, whereupon they were attacked by Ngô Quyền's forces. More than half the Chinese were drowned, including Liu Hongcao. When news of the battle reached Sea Gate with the survivors, Liu Yan wept openly. He collected what remained of his army and returned to Canton. This victory ended China's long domination of Vietnam and began a period of Vietnam's independence until the conquest by Ming China. Ngô Quyền's tactic would later be copied by Trần Hưng Đạo in a battle at Bạch Đằng River against the Mongols in 1288.
In 931 AD, Dương Đình Nghệ defeated the Southern Han army – one of the Ten Kingdoms near Tĩnh Hải quân (Army of Peaceful Sea, the name used for Vietnam's army at that time) and achieved the independent status of the Vietnamese at Tĩnh Hải quân; he named himself Jiedushi.
Liu Yan claimed that if Dương Đình Nghệ was dead, then Tỉnh Hãi Quân would be out of good generals. He ordered his ninth son, Liu Hongcao (Vietnamese: Lưu Hoằng Tháo) to become "Bình Hải tướng quân" (Peaceful Sea Military Governor) and "Giao Chỉ vương" (King of Giao Chỉ), he commanded the naval forces of Southern Han into Giao Chỉ.
Executing the protestors
In the year 938 AD, after calling of all the soldiers in the nation to his side, Ngô Quyền led his army from Ái Châu to the North to kill Kiều Công Tiễn. Công Tiễn was surrounded by Ngô Quyền's army and could not resist. He waited for the reinforcements of Southern Han.
The Emperor of Southern Han, Liu Yan, gave his son Liu Hongcao the title Tĩnh Hải quân's Jiedushi, then Hongcao's title was changed rather prematurely into King of Giao (Jiaozhi). He led over twenty thousand troops into Giao Chỉ in the name of "Công Tiễn's Reinforcements". Liu Yan asked Chongwen's courtier (known by the Vietnameses as Tiêu Ích) for advice. Ích said:
Nowadays, rain has fallen for weeks, and the sea's route is dangerous and long. Ngô Quyền was also a talented tactician; we cannot despise him. Our army must be so-cautioned, we should use as many scouts as possible while moving forward (cautiously) to the South.
—Chongwen's courtier Tiêu Ích
The Han Emperor wanted to move fast and quickly reconquer Tĩnh Hải, so he didn't listen to the advice of Tiêu Ích. He ordered Hongcao to lead his army into the river of Bạch Đằng immediately. Emperor Liu Yan, as a general himself, stayed at Haimen as an alternative reinforcement.
While Liu Yan was mobilizing his army, Ngô Quyền marched to Đại La to kill Kiều Công Tiễn. Công Tiễn at that time, completely surrounded by Ngô Quyền's forces and was killed beforce the Southern Han's reinforcements march into the borders of Vietnam.
The pole and tide tactic
Ngô Quyền knew that Hongcao was coming, and told his generals:
Hoằng Tháo (Hongcao) is such a foolish child, leading his army from the far land. His soldiers were still tired, and eventually they became completely perplexed when they heard that Công Tiễn was killed and there was no information about the situation happening right here. Our army is strong, the enemy is weak; we can surely win victory in this war. However! They have an advantage with their mighty war ships, and if we don't plan our defence first, we don't know who will control the battle. If we order our men to place iron-headed poles under the water of the sea gate, their ships will follow the tide of sea and be caught upon the poles, and then we can easily dominate them without letting any ships of theirs escape.
Ngô Quyền ordered his soldiers to nail the iron-headed poles under the waters of the Bạch Đằng river. At high tide, the poles would be covered with water, and thus, remain unseen by the Chinese. Ngô Quyền intended to lure the enemy into this area when the tide was up. When the tide was down, the enemy's boats would be stranded, and be easy targets for attack.
The Southern Han's soldiers, seeing the small ships of Ngô Quyền, argressively marched in, thinking that they could easily defeat the small force of Ngô Quyền. Ngô Quyền ordered his army to retreat upstream. He waited until the tide lowered and ordered his army to fight back. The big ships of Southern Han were stranded and penetrated by the poles. At that time, Ngô Quyền used all of his forces to attack. The Southern Han's Army lost the battle and retreated, Liu Hongcao and more than half the force was killed by the Vietnamese.
The Emperor of Southern Han was leading his army at the borders, so he could not respond to the situation. Hearing the news that Hongcao was dead, Liu Yang was horrified, and ordered his remaining forces to retreat (). After that, the dynasty of Southern Han forgot about invading Tĩnh Hải quân.
The military tactic of Ngô Quyền is unique, as Lê Văn Hưu described: "Great tactic, good combat" (Vietnamese: "Mưu giỏi mà đánh cũng giỏi" or "mưu tài đánh giỏi") in Complete History of Đại Việt (Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư). However, according to the militarists, applying the pole-and-tide stratagem to inflict damage upon an enemy navy required the successful combination of two factors:
- First, lure the enemy past the poles when at high tide as the poles are hidden.
- Second, know the tide and calculate the time when the tide ebbs, and ensure the enemy ships are above the poles at this point, causing them to be impaled on the poles and sunk.
These two processes were integrally linked, for if the enemy came in at low tide, they would have seen the poles, but if low tide did not come in time, Liu's boats would have easily sailed over the poles.
This is the situation that the militarists of Vietnam recorded of Battle of Bạch Đằng (981), that the Song's army (Vietnamese: Lưu Hoằng Tháo) passed the poles and forward into the land without obstacles (But then they was tricked by Lê Hoàn and was defeated.
Therefore, to let the tactic take effect, beside preparing the poles secretly and fast, luring the enemy right into the right route and the right time is the most decisive work. Ngô Quyền successfully achieved success with this tactic due to preparing and calculating the right rules of nature and won the battle in one day with it.
One general who reused this tactic was Trần Hưng Đạo in the Battle of Bạch Đằng (1288); Trần Hưng Đạo also understood the requisites behind this tactic and applied them successfully in pushing the Mongol army out of the Bạch Đằng River. Using poles to destroy ships is not easy to pull off: it is no coincidence that both Ngô Quyền and Trần Hưng Đạo are considered great generals in the History of Vietnam.
Significance of the Battle
|“||Liu Gong was too greedy in taking the other lands, he wanted to expand his nation, but even that the lands were not taken yet, he harmed his own son and harmed his people, like Mencius said: "Use the unloved ones to harm the loved ones", didn't it?||”|
|“||Tiền Ngô Vương could take the newly raised soldiers of Viet to defeat thousand troops of Lưu Hoằng Tháo, created the country and claimed himself King, made the Northerns feared as they didn't want to come again. We could say this is a wrath to ease the people, great tactics, good combat too. Although he just claimed himself a king, not fully heir to it, changed his title, but the formal of our Đại Việt, His Ancestor reconnected it.||”|
The great victory at Bạch Đằng, 938, has an important signification to Vietnam, because it ended 1000 years of First Chinese domination of Vietnam (The Long Eclipse) in History of Vietnam, opened up an independence age for the nation of Vietnam.
The Victory of Bạch Đằng is the victorious final of Vietnam in the fighting the Chineses's domination and assimilation to retake the independence of Vietnameses people. The full great meaning of this victory can only be seen in the background of the 1117 years Long Eclipse.
Moreover, in those 1000 years, the enemy of the Vietnamese people is a large empire, one of the highest military positions in the Eastern Asia, with the Han's expansionism is being increasing at it highest rate. Especially under the Eastern Han Dynasty, Tang Dynasty. Continuing the expansion of Qin Shi Huang, the Han Dynasty successfully conquered Northern Korea and the nomads in the North, expanded its borders to Middle Asia and invaded the countries at the South Western. In the 7th century, the Sui conquered Korea, today's Taiwan, Giao Châu (North Vietnam), and Tây Đồ Quốc..., the Tang Dynasty expanded in all directions, formed a vast empire as Tang Taizong declared: "I have conquered more than 200 kingdoms, parcified both four directions, the Di Mans at the far land have to come here and serve me".
From the first days after Anno Domini, the population of Han's empire was over 57 million. At that time, the population of Vietnam was just over 1 million. After having conquered Vietnam, the plot of the Han Dynasty not just stopped at destroying the national sovereignty, exploiting the people, scavenging the treasures of Vietnam but also assimilate the entire Vietnameses people forever, annex the lands into China. The Chineses's assimilation plan is a featured of Han's expansionism, was used from the Han's Dynasty to the Tang. In the entire History of Vietnam, this is one of the most dangerous and destinying time that the Vietnameses people must pass.
Ngô Quyền – the hero in the great Victory of Bạch Đằng in 938, is the King that has rebuilt Vietnam, King of the Kings, as the Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư described. Phan Bội Châu said: "He is surely worthy with the title "The Mid-Ancestor" of Vietnameses people."
After victory of Bạch Đằng, Vietnam entered a new age to rebuild the country in large-scale. That is the age of the modern Đại Việt, of Thăng Long's traditional, the age of defeating the Song, defending against the Mongols, liberating against the Ming, a golden age of Lý Dynasty, Trần Dynasty, Lê Dynasty.
Historian Ngô Thì Sĩ described:
The Victory on Bạch Đằng River is the basis to rebuild the nation. The victories under the Đinh, Lê, Lý, Trần's Dynasty after then also followed the prestige this victory left. Battle of Bạch Đằng has a great fame, resounded to thousands of Autumns, it didn't just glorious only at it's time.
—Việt sử tiêu án - Ngô Thì Sĩ
- China and Vietnam: The Politics of Asymmetry - Page 113 Brantly Womack - 2006 "However, the facts that Dinh had consolidated local control, that Nan Han had been defeated by Dinh's predecessor in the battle of Bạch Đằng River in 938, and that Vietnam was difficult terrain for Chinese armies constrained the Song to ..."
- Zizhi Tongjian, vol. 281.
- Kỷ Nam Bắc Phân Tranh - Đại Việt Sử ký toàn thư
- Đại Việt Sử ký Toàn thư
- Tiền Ngô Vương - Đại Việt Sử ký Toàn thư
- Nhà trần - Đại Việt Sử ký toàn thư
- Book of Tang
- Đại việt sử ký tiền biên, Ngô Thì Sĩ