Mongol Military Tactics and Organization
The Mongol military tactics and organization enabled Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire to conquer nearly all of
continental Asia, the Middle East and parts of eastern Europe.
The original foundation of that system was an extension of the nomadic lifestyle of the Mongols. Other elements were invented by Genghis Khan, his generals, and his successors. Technologies useful to attack fortifications were adapted from other cultures, and foreign technical experts integrated into the command structures.
For the larger part of the 13th century, the Mongols lost only a few battles using that system, but always returned to turn the result around in their favor. In many cases, they won against significantly larger opponent armies. Their first real defeat came in the Battle of Ain Jalut in 1260, against the first army which had been specifically trained to use their own tactics against them.That battle ended the western expansion of the Mongol Empire, and within the next 20 years, the Mongols also suffered defeats in attempted invasions of Vietnam and Japan.
But while the empire became divided around the same time, its combined size and influence remained largely intact for more than another hundred years.
Mongol Army Training and Decipline
Mongol armies constantly practiced horsemanship, archery, and unit tactics,
formations and rotations. This training was maintained by a hard, but not overly
harsh or unreasonable, discipline.
Officers and troopers alike were usually given a wide leeway by their superiors in carrying out their orders, so long as the larger objectives of the plan were well served and the orders promptly obeyed. The Mongols thus avoided the pitfalls of overly rigid discipline and micromanagement which have proven a hobgoblin to
armed forces throughout history. However, all members had to be unconditionally loyal to each other and to their superiors, and especially to the Khan. If one soldier ran from danger in battle, then he and his nine comrades from the same arban would face the death penalty together.
One unique training method that the Mongols used were huge hunting excursions organized annually on the steppe. The Mongol horsemen would make a great circle, and drive all manner of animals in towards the center. Practicing the dynamic maneuvers also to be used on a battlefield, the Mongols would trap all the animals of various types in their encirclement, and on the order of their commander, begin the slaughter. If any hunter killed any creature before the appointed time, or if one allowed an animal to escape from the ring, they would
be punished. Thus the Mongols were able to train, enjoy the recreation of hunting, and gather food for massive feasts all at once.
Genghis Khan organized the Mongol soldiers into groups based on the decimal system. Units, which included all males from 14-60,
were recursively built from groups of 10 (Arav), 100 (Zuut), 1,000 (Minghan),
and overseen by the tumen quartermaster, called the jurtchi.
Genghis Khan rewarded those who had been loyal to him during the lean years of his rise to power with command postings. Tumens, and sometimes Minghans, were commanded by a Noyan, who was often given the task to administer specific conquered territories. From two to five Tumens would then form an ordu meaning army corps or field army, from which the word "Horde" is derived,under the command of the Khans or their generals (boyan). An ordu was a tightly regulated unit and its organization and layout were uniform.
Six of every ten Mongol troopers were light cavalry horse archers, the remaining four were more heavily armored and armed lancers. Mongol light cavalry were extremely
light troops compared to contemporary standards, allowing them to execute tactics and maneuvers that would have been impractical for a heavier enemy (such
as European knights). Most of the remaining troops were
heavier cavalry with lances for close combat after the archers had brought the enemy into disarray. Soldiers usually carried scimitars or axes as well.
The Mongols protected their horses in the same way as did they themselves, covering them with lamellar armor. Horse armor was divided into five parts and designed to protect every part of the horse, including the forehead, which had a specially crafted plate which was tied on each side of the neck
Mongolian horses are relatively small, and would lose short-distance races under equal conditions with larger horses from other regions. However, since most other armies carried much heavier armor, the
Mongols could still outrun most enemy horsemen in battle. In addition, Mongolian horses were extremely durable and sturdy, allowing the Mongols to move over large distances quickly, often surprising enemies that had expected them to arrive days or even weeks later.
All horses were equipped with stirrups. This technical advantage made it easier for the Mongol archers to turn their upper body, and shoot in all directions, including backwards. Mongol warriors would time the loosing of an arrow to the moment when a galloping horse would have all four feet off the ground, thus ensuring a steady, well-aimed shot.
Each soldier had two to four horses so when a horse tired they could use the other ones which made them one of the fastest armies in the world. This, however, also made the Mongol army vulnerable to shortages of fodder; campaigning in arid or forested regions were thus difficult and even in ideal steppe terrain a Mongol force has to keep moving in order to ensure sufficient grazing for its massive horse herd.
Intelligence and Planning
The Mongols carefully scouted out and spied on their enemies in advance of any invasion. Prior to the invasion of Europe, Batu and Subutai sent spies for almost ten years into the heart of Europe, making maps of the old Roman roads, establishing trade routes, and determining the level of ability of each principality to resist invasion. They made well-educated guesses as to the willingness of each principality to aid the others, and their ability to resist alone or together.
Also, when invading an area, the Mongols would do all that was necessary to completely conquer the town or cities. Some tactics involved diverting rivers from the city/town, closing supplies to the city and waiting for its inhabitants to surrender, gathering civilians from the nearby areas to fill the front line for the city/town attack before scaling the wall, and pillaging the surrounding area and killing some of
the people, then letting some survivors flee to the main city to report their losses to the main populace to weaken resistance, simultaneously draining the resources of the city with the sudden influx of refugees.
Psychological warfare and deception
The Mongols used psychological warfare successfully in many of
their battles, especially in terms of spreading terror and fear to towns and cities. They often offered an opportunity for the enemy to surrender and pay tribute, instead of having their city ransacked and destroyed. They knew that sedentary populations were not free to flee danger as were nomad populations, and that the destruction of their cities was the worst loss a sedentary population could experience. When cities accepted the offer, they were spared, but were required
to support the conquering Mongol army with manpower, supplies, and other services.
If the offer was refused, however, the Mongols would invade and destroy the city or town, but allow a few civilians to flee and spread terror by reporting of their loss. Those reports were an essential tool to incite fear in others. However, both sides often had a similar if differently motivated interest in overstating the enormity of the reported events: the Mongols' reputation would increase and the townspeople could use their reports of terror to raise an army. For that reason, specific data (e.g. casualty figures) given in contemporary
sources needs to be evaluated carefully.
The Mongols also used deception very well in their wars. For instance, when approaching a mobile army the units would be split into three or more army groups, each trying to outflank and surprise their opponents. This created many battlefield scenarios for the opponents where the Mongols would seem to appear out of nowhere and that there were seemingly more of them than in actuality. Flanking and/or feigned retreat if the enemy could not be handled easily was one of the most practiced techniques.
Other techniques used commonly by the Mongols were completely psychological and were used to entice/lure enemies into vulnerable positions by showing themselves from a hill or some other predetermined locations, then disappearing into the woods or behind hills while the Mongols' flank troops already strategically positioned would appear as if out of nowhere from the left, right and/or from their rear. During the initial states of battlefield contact, while camping in close proximity of their enemies at night, they would feign numerical superiority by ordering each soldier to light at least five fires, which would appear to the enemy scouts and spies that
their force was almost five times larger than it actually was.
Another way the Mongols utilized deception and terror was by tying tree branches or leaves behind their horses and letting the foliage drag behind them across the ground; by traveling in a systematic fashion, the Mongols could create a dust storm behind hills, in order to create fear and appear to the enemy to be much larger than they actually were, thereby forcing the enemy to surrender. Because each Mongol soldier had more than one horse, they would let the prisoners and the civilians to ride their horses for a while before the conflict also to fake numerical superiority.
All resources are from the Internet: Wikipedia & Oriental
Each Mongol soldier typically maintained 3 or 4 horses.Changing horses often allowed them to travel at high speed for days without
stopping or wearing out the animals. Their ability to live off the land, and in
extreme situations off their animals (mare's milk especially), made their armies
far less dependent on the traditional logistical apparatus of agrarian armies. In some cases, as during the invasion of Hungary in early 1241, they covered up to 100 miles (160 km) per day, which was unheard of by other armies of the time.
The mobility of individual soldiers made it possible to send them on
successful scouting missions, gathering intelligence about routes and searching for terrain suited to the preferred combat tactics of the Mongols.
During the invasion of Kievan Rus, the Mongols used frozen rivers as highways, and winter, the time of year usually off-limits for any major activity due to the intense cold, became the Mongols' preferred time to strike.
To avoid the deadly hail of missiles, enemies would frequently spread out, or seek cover, breaking up their formations and making them more vulnerable to the lancers' charges. Likewise, when they packed themselves together, into dense square or phalanx style formations, they would become more vulnerable to the arrows.
Once the enemy was deemed sufficiently weakened, the noyans
would give the order. The drums would beat and the signal flags wave, telling the lancers to begin their charge. Often, the devastation of the arrows was enough to rout an enemy, so the lancers were only needed to help pursue and mop up the remnants.
When facing European armies, whose emphasis was in formations of heavy cavalry, the Mongols would avoid direct confrontation, and would instead use their bows to destroy enemy cavalry at long distances. If the armor withstood their arrows, the Mongols killed the knights' horses, leaving a heavily armored man on foot and isolated.
At the Battle of Mohi, the Mongols left open a gap in their ranks, luring the Hungarians into retreating through it. This resulted in
the Hungarians being strung out over all the countryside and easy pickings for mounted archers who simply galloped along and picked them off, while the lancers skewered them as they fled. At Legnica, the few Teutonic, Templar and Hospitaller knights who were able to make a stand dismounted, and did not route as quickly. However their lack of mobility and archers ensured they were defeated all the same.
The primary weapon of the Mongol forces was the Mongol bow. It was a recurve
bow made from composite materials (wood, horn, and sinew), and at the time unmatched for accuracy, force, and reach. The bow's geometry allowed it to be made relatively small so it could be used and fired in any direction from horseback.
Quivers containing sixty arrows were strapped to the backs of the
cavalrymen. The Mongols were extremely skilled with the bow and were said to be able to hit a bird on the wing.
The key to the strength of the Mongolian bow was its laminate
construction, with layers of boiled horn and sinew to augment the wood. The layer of horn was in the inner face as it resists compression, while the layer of sinew was at the outer face as it resists expansion. All of this gave the bow great power which made it very good against armour. The Mongol bow could shoot an arrow over 500 metres (1,600 ft). Targeted shots were possible at a range of 200 or 230 metres (660 or 750 ft), which determined the optimal tactical approach distance
for light cavalry units. Ballistic shots could hit enemy units (without targeting individual soldiers) at distances of up to 400 metres (1,300 ft), useful for surprising and scaring troops and horses before beginning the actual attack.
Mongol archers used a wide variety of arrows, depending on the target and distance. Chainmail and some metal armour could be penetrated at close range by using special heavy arrows.
Mongol sword was a slightly curved Scimitar which was used for slashing attacks but was also capable of cutting and thrusting, due to its shape and construction, making it easier to use from horseback. The sword could be used with a one-handed or two-handed grip and had a blade that was usually around 2 feet (0.61 m) in length, with the overall length of the sword approximately 3 feet (0.91 m) and likely never over 1 metre (3 ft 3 in).
Catapults and Machines
Technology was one of the important facets of Mongolian warfare. For
instance, siege machines were an important part of Genghis
Khan's warfare, especially in attacking fortified cities. The siege engines were not disassembled and carried by horses to be rebuilt at the site of the battle like European armies. Instead the Mongol horde would travel with skilled engineers who would build siege engines from materials on site.
The engineers building the machines were recruited among captives, mostly from China and Persia. When Mongols slaughtered whole populations, they often spared the engineers and technicians, swiftly assimilating them into the Mongol armies.
Tibetan Mastiffs were trained to accompany armies. Genghis Khan (1162-1227) had a contingent of 30,000 Tibetan Mastiffs raised in the Tibetan area. These large dogs were launched in charges against
the ranks of the enemy and used as dispatch carriers. The dogs were cited for their contribution to the establishment of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). Later, Tibetan Mastiffs found their way via Central Asia and Europe and became the ancestors of improved local breeds.
Encirclement and opening
The main reason for these manoeuvers was to encircle the city to cut off escape and overwhelm from both sides. If the situation deteriorated on one of the fronts or flanks, the leader from the hill directed one part of the army to support the other. If it appeared that there was going to be significant loss, the Mongols would retreat to save their troops and would engage the next day, or the next month, after having studied the enemies' tactics and defences in the first battle, or again send a demand to surrender after inflicting some form of
damage. There was no fixture on when or where units should be deployed: it was dependent on battle circumstances, and the flanks and groups had full authority on what to do in the course of battle - such as supporting other flanks or performing an individual feigned retreat as conditions seemed appropriate, in small groups of 100 to 1000 - so long as the battle unfolded according to the general directive and the opponents were defeated.
The Mongols very commonly practiced the feigned retreat, perhaps the most difficult battlefield tactic to execute. This is because a feigned rout amongst untrained troops can often turn into a real rout if an enemy presses into it. Pretending disarray and defeat in the heat of the battle, the Mongols would suddenly appear panicked and turn and run, only to pivot when the enemy was drawn out, destroying them at their leisure. As this tactic became better known to the enemy, the Mongols would extend their feigned retreats for days or weeks, to falsely convince the chasers that they were defeated, only to charge back
once the enemy again had its guard down or withdrew to join its main