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“Besieging citadel, annihilating reinforcements” – the distinctive feature of Lam Son troops in 1427

In the resistance war against the Ming invaders in the 15th Century, Lam Son Insurgent Army gained land-sliding victories. In particular, the siege of Dong Quan citadel destroying the two reinforcement armies led by Liu Sheng and Mu Sheng in 1427 left us valuable lessons, especially the art of “besieging the citadel and annihilating the reinforcements”.

After 10 years countering Ming troops, in 1427, Lam Son insurrection turned to liberation war. At that time, with their dominant posture and force, they totally seized the strategic initiative and gained successive victories, destroying a large number of enemy troops. Wang Tong and his remaining troops had to hide in Dong Quan citadel and waited for reinforcements. Facing the urgent situation, Ming dynasty in China deployed a huge number of troops heading to our country, aiming at rescuing their troops in Dong Quan first and then turning the situation to their advantage so that they could continue their rule in Dai Viet. After analysing  the situation, the commanders of the Insurgent decided on the plan in which they would lay siege on Dong Quan citadel and annihilate the enemy’s reinforcements . The situation then went according to their plan. After nearly one month of combat, the Insurgent defeated the two reinforcement armies of Ming, forcing the enemy in Dong Quan citadel to surrender and withdraw, ending 21 years of the harsh rule of Ming dynasty in Dai Viet. The victory manifested the distinctive feature of “besieging the citadel, annihilating the reinforcements” which has been creatively applied in the history of the country’s salvation wars, including those under the Party’s leadership.

1. Completely besieging and isolating the enemy in the citadel forcing them to call for reinforcements, then annihilated a huge number of enemy troops and ended the war. After liberating crucial strategic areas, the Lam Son Insurgent Army headed to Dong Quan citadel – the last and main fortification of Ming troops. Facing the strength of Lam Son Army, the enemy had no other choice but to rely on the fortification of the citadel to defence and waited for reinforcements. In this circumstance, the Insurgent had two choices. They would either attack the citadel, destroy the enemy and end the war or surround it, then lure their reinforcements to our kill zone to destroy which would lead to the surrender of the enemy troops in the citadel. After thoroughly studying the situation, they chose the second option. Implementing the plan, Le Loi decided to move his headquarters to Bo De (now Long Bien district, Ha Noi) facing Dong Quan citadel and directly commanded the siege. Then, the Insurgent carried out a number of battles to destroy the enemy’s posts in the outer layer, tightening the siege and defeating their counterattacks. To their anticipation, to rescue its troops garrisoning in Dong Quan, in October 1427, Ming dynasty deployed a huge force heading to Dai Viet in two columns. The main one commanded by Liu Sheng consisted of 100 thousand soldiers departing from Guang Xi through Lang Son; the secondary one led by Mu Sheng consisted of 50 thousand men from Yun Nan. Both fell into our ambushed positions and were quickly destroyed in the Chi Lang – Xuong Giang battles. The enemy lost 100 thousand men in total. This victory not only forced the enemy to surrender but also destroyed their will of invasion. Then after, Ming dynasty did not dare to invade our country one again. This was such a distinctive combat art.

2. Having the right appreciation and exactly choosing the main target for decisive battle to end the war. When the enemy reinforcements came, the headquarters of the Insurgent made careful appreciation of the enemy, the terrain and its strength. Accordingly, the enemy reinforcements headed to Dai Viet in two directions. It was impossible for them to intercept the enemy in both directions because of the Insurgents’ limited strength. Moreover, it had to have enough strength to siege Dong Quan citadel and to be ready to respond to contingencies. The Insurgent, then, had a sound decision as to sustain the siege in Dong Quan and attack the two enemy columns one by one. The matter was which column should be engaged first to take the initiative and end the war. On analyzing and appreciating the situation scientifically and objectively, Le Loi and his associates realized that the enemy column led by Mu Sheng, though proved to be weaker and smaller in number, were in a more far-reaching and craggy terrain. If the Insurgent army had deployed a dozen thousand of troops to engage the enemy in this direction, they would have coped difficulties in timely gethering forces in case of unexpected situation. In addition, defeating this column would have little impact on the situation of the war as this was just the secondary force. The main force commanded by Liu Sheng was much more stronger with a huge number of troops and shorter road to reach Dong Quan citadel, so it would be much more dangerous. Basing on this appreciation, while deploying a small number of troops to block the Mu Sheng formation, Le Loi decided to spare the majority of his force to intercept the enemy’s main force. This is one in a blue moon decision in history as we managed to engage the enemy strongest force in the decisive battle when it exposed its weaknesses as overconfident, objective, unprepared, and passive. Reality showed that being aware of his smaller number, Mu Sheng’s troops advanced with care while Liu Sheng, believing in his overwhelming strength, headed his troops massively and carelessly and soon fell into the Insurgent army’s ambushing position and completely destroyed. The distinctive feature in choosing the main attacking direction was also manifested in the way that when Liu Sheng’s troops were completely destroyed, Mu Sheng’s force got extremely panic, ran back to their country in chaos. As a result, Wang Tong in Dong Quan had to surrender and Ming dynasty had to recognize Dai Viet’s independence.

3. Flexibly and creatively deploying suitable tactics to destroy a majority of the enemy’s reinforcements. When the enemy’s reinforcements came in our country in pincer movement, the Insurgent army quickly deployed force to destroy all their fortresses locating on their maneuvering routes. It was an important posture creation step to cut off the enemy’s important support bases on their advance. Consequently, after the reinforcements were defeated, besides Dong Quan citadel, the enemy had only two other fortifications, namely Tay Do and Co Long, so it was  easy for the Insurgent army to besiege with a small number of troops. For effectively engaging the enemy’s reinforcements, the Insurgent army thoroughly studied the terrain, the advantages of its troops as well as strong and weak points of the enemy. As for Mu Sheng’s troops, they faced craggy terrain, hence advanced slowly. The Insurgent just deployed a small number of troops, mainly local troops, making use of the terrain to block the enemy’s advancement. In addition to deploying force to attack the enemy’s food supply force, the Insurgent army also applied ambushing tactics with skillful troops to destroy a significant amount of the enemy’s soldiers, causing them to be confused, passive, and in unfavorable position.

As for Liu Sheng’s army, as they were highly capable and crowded, the Insurgent army lured them to their ambushed position in Chi Lang Pass and destroyed them. With about 10 thousand troops, the Insurgent army killed more than 10 thousand enemies and their commander in chief. Then, another 10 thousand enemy’s troops were killed in Can Tram and twenty thousand others were killed in Pho Cat, etc. Facing the risk of being totally annihilated, the enemy concentrated in Xuong Giang field to deal with the Insurgents. Taking the advantages, Le Loi formed up an overwhelming force, surrounded the enemy in different directions and synchronously attacked it, killing the entire enemy’s main reinforcement force. So, with flexible and creative tactics, the Insurgents defeated 150 thousand seasoned troops of Ming dynasty. This victory not only threw the enemy out of our territory, ended the war but also undermined their will of invasion, bringing about peace to the country.

Lam Son Insurgent developed the art of “besiege the citadel and annihilate reinforcements” to a new height with many distinctive features and left us valuable lessons which should further be studied and applied in today’s cause of Homeland protection.

Sr Col  Dang Van Sanh, PhD

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