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Luring the enemy – a character of military arts of Chuong Duong-Thang Long battle in 1285

In Chuong Duong-Thang Long battle, “taking back the Imperial City of Thang Long, at that time, was the greatest feat of arms” of Tran dynasty, making a contribution of paramount significance to the final victory in the second resistance war against Yuan-Mongol troops (1285). It gave us lessons on military arts, especially the art of luring enemy.

A sketch map of developments of the Second Resistance War against Yuan-Mongol troops

To realize counter-attack strategy of Tran dynasty High Command, Tran Quoc Tuan, Tran Quang Khai, Tran Nhat Duat and other generals moved their troops to the North while the two enemy arms led by Tuo Huan and Suo Du could not support and collaborate with each other, and their combat strength reduced considerably. Initially, we destroyed a number of the enemy posts along the Red river, such as A Lo, Tay Ket, and Ham Tu, which was a stepping stone to liberate Thang Long. The enemy garrisoned in Thang Long was in large numbers (about 100.000 troops), not to mention a number of posts in villages around the Imperial City; of which they deployed marine force to Chuong Duong post to protect Southern Thang Long. We determined that liberating Thang Long was the top goal; however, if we attacked directly, it was hard to gain victory, and we would suffer heavy losses, thus Tran High Command came to decide to attack Chuong Duong. With high morale, Tran troops and militia from provinces fought bravely together, quickly destroying Chuong Duong post, capturing a lot of enemy ships and food supplies; at the same time, setting up an ambush in the area between Chuong Duong and Thang Long. After the collapse of Chuong Duong post, the enemy moved out of Thang Long so as to annihilate our main force and reoccupy their lost target. When the enemy came close to Chuong Duong, Tran troops suddenly cut off  their formation, and quickly annihilated a large number of the enemy, the rest of them fled back to Thang Long. In the midst of victory, Tran army used its whole force to lay siege to and continuously attack Thang Long. Under our attack, the enemy had to run away across the Red river, to Kinh Bac; the imperial city of Thang Long was thus liberated. It could be said that, to attack and then control Thang Long, Tran army first attacked Chuong Duong with a view to enticing the enemy to move out of the Imperial City, placing them at a disadvantage, then quickly attacking and controlling Thang Long. That was the character of the art of luring enemy of Tran troops; which is manifested in the main following points:

1. Proactively creating and taking advantage of opportunity to lure enemy. On the basis of studying and precisely analysing the situation in all aspects, Tran army came to decide to choose Chuong Duong as its target to lure the enemy; the reason was that Thang Long was the enemy headquarters and the enemy troops were stationing in large numbers there. Moreover, they were positioning various defence lines afar, among which Chuong Duong was an advance post in the South. As they could not have a final battle to end the war with Tran main force, they returned to Thang Long and around the city to consolidate force and await reinforcements.  However, they were besieged and separated by Tran troops, facing a food shortage and diseases. Besides, being attacked almost everywhere by Tran army and militia from provinces, they became weak both in position and strength. All of which created favourable opportunity for Tran troops to liberate Thang Long and bring Tran King and his subordinates back to the Imperial City. As the enemy focused their force to protect the North, being ready to receive reinforcements from their own country, the South became exposed. Therefore, Tran High Command decided to attack Chuong Duong so as to shock them. Losing Chuong Duong, an important post on the right of the Red river, the enemy had to deploy forces to reoccupy it. It could be understood that we lured the enemy as we wanted. When they focused on supporting Chuong Duong, there was a small number of their force left in Thang Long. The enemy thus exposed two weak points: 1. Exposing force on the way to assist Chuong Duong. 2. The  troops left in Thang Long were in a small number. That was an opportunity for us to ambush the enemy reinforcements and besiege, separate and attack Thang Long. Reality revealed that creating and taking opportunity in operations plays an important even deciding role in a battle, a campaign, and possibly a war. Hence, a commander should grasp the opportunity created by his superiors and other forces; also proactively creating opportunity for the battle.

2. Choosing a target to attack and luring the enemy to move to the operational area according to our intention. Studying and precisely analysing  the situation of Thang Long, Tran High Command chose Chuong Duong the target to attack and provoke the enemy. That was a sound and creative decision of Tran High Command. The reason was that the enemy in the North were mainly stationed along roads, on the other side of the Red river. The main part of the enemy was garrisoned inside Thang Long and villages around, making up a direct defensive force. They deployed the rest of them along the Red river, among which there was Chuong Duong post. If we attacked them in the North of the Red river, it would be less likely for the enemy to assist as it was very complicated for them to cross the river. What is more, Chuong Duong was the only post left on the right of Red river, 20 km far from Southward Thang Long. Thus, to protect the South of Thang Long, the enemy had to hold this post at any rate. Without Chuong Duong, Thang Long became exposed in the South and separated, which narrowed the enemy’s dimension of occupation. Notably, Chuong Duong was an important marine post. If the marine force in Chuong Duong post was annihilated, Tuo Huan lost one of the most seasoned marine forces, and it would be difficult for him in the following operational activities. Also, attacking Chuong Duong, Tran army would have time to deploy both ground and marine forces. That our main forces came there was the bait to lure the enemy to come for a final battle. Hence, when Chuong Duong was attacked, it was very likely that the enemy deployed their seasoned force from Thang Long to assist. In reality, when we attacked Chuong Duong, Tuo Huan immediately deployed his seasoned force from Thang Long to assist and reoccupy it. It could be said that choosing the right target to provoke the enemy made them to deploy forces to assist, which created favourable conditions for us to a large number of enemy troops on their march. It showed that in order to choose a right target, it is necessary to study and evaluate the enemy’s weak and strong points in terms of their status and power related to our chosen target. Moreover, it is necessary to ensure the target to provoke be valuable that besieging or attacking it would have an enormous influence on enemy force stationing in the main target, luring them to move out and annihilate them, reducing their strength, making them completely passive. Destroying the chosen target is just a measure to lure the enemy for attacking the main target.

3. Setting up a favourable disposition to annihilate the enemy. It could be said that realizing the scheme “Luring the tiger out of  the mountain”, in another word, luring the enemy away from Thang Long to annihilate them and at the same time reduce their strength was very difficult. However, Tran troops were successful in luring the enemy to move to the chosen place to annihilate them. In addition, Tran troops continuously attacked the enemy bases everywhere, making them suffer heavy losses both in manpower and material. Notably, after A Lo, Tay Ket, Ham Tu bases were destroyed, the enemy strength and power decreased considerably; morale among troops was at rock bottom. Meanwhile, fighting morale among Tran troops was higher than ever.

Alongside taking advantage of established strategic disposition, Tran High Command established direct disposition to annihilate the enemy, by launching small-scale battles around Thang Long in order to puzzle and disperse them towards other directions. At that time, Tran troops mobilized force strong enough, secretly deploying forces to besiege, separate, and destroy Chuong Duong in various directions. That was a battle highly valuable in the art of setting up disposition to lure the enemy. After destroying the enemy in Chuong Duong, a part from capturing ships and food supplies of the enemy, we opened up the gateway to Southern Thang Long, turning proactive, making them become passive and send reinforcements. To ambush the reinforcements on their march, Tran troops made use of villages, topography and ground objects in the area near Chuong Duong to cover themselves, secretly preparing an ambush, dividing forces into small parts to guarantee mobility in attacking the enemy. When the enemy reinforcements were trapped into the ambush, Tran troops quickly cut off  their formation. Troops from the two flanks attacked the enemy formation fiercely at the same time, tearing them apart to annihilate more easily. Thus, in a short time, we destroyed a large number of the enemy force, there was only a small number trying to flee back to Thang Long. The victory showed that to enhance the effectiveness of a battle, the most important thing is to set up an unpredictable, unapproachable and firm disposition.

Today, military arts of the people’s warfare to defend the Homeland has had new developments in theory, however, the art of luring the enemy in Chuong Duong – Thang Long battle remains valid that needs to be studied, developed, and applied flexibly and appropriately to each situation.

Colonel, Dr. Hoang Xuan Nhien

National Defence Academy

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