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Monday, October 26, 2020, 10:24 (GMT+7)
Special features of posture establishment in the Battle of Chi Lang – Xuong Giang

Victory of Chi Lang – Xuong Giang in October 1427 of our military and people was a decisive factor in ending the war of resistance against the Ming aggressors. There are lessons to be learned from this victory, most notably the art of posture establishment.

Having been defeated at the Battle of Tot Dong – Chuc Dong in 1426, the Ming enemy was forced to retreat into passive defence while our troops seized initiative and concentrated on besieging and forcing them to surrender across the theatre of war. The Citadel of Dong Quan was besieged by all sides by four armies of Lam Son. Given the seriousness of the situation, on the one hand Ming’s commanding general Wang Cong pretended to make peace and ordered his troops to stand firm inside their fortresses, but on the other, he asked for reinforcements from home. In order to rescue troops under siege, once against the Ming dynasty deployed a huge expeditionary force to attack our country via two routes. The first army, which consisted of 100 thousand troops and 20 thousand horses, was led by commanding general Liu Sheng and his seconds in command such as Liang Ming, Cui Ju, and Li Qing. Their mission was to attack Lang Son from Guangxi. The second army, composed of 50 thousand troops and 10 thousand horses, under the leadership of Mu Sheng, Tang He, and Tan Zhong, launched the attack from Yunnan to Lao Cai. Given 150 thousand reinforcements under the leadership of experienced commanders and 40 thousand troops under siege, Ming Emperor hoped to mount a counter-offensive to turn defeat into victory.

Map of Chi Lang - Xuong Giang Battle in Octorber, 1427

Despite having grown up in strength, seized initiative, inhibited the enemy freedom of maneuver, and forced them to retreat into their fortifications, the Lam Son insurgent army was not capable of annihilating them. Meanwhile, the enemy reinforcements were entering our country, requiring the Command of Lam Son insurgents to work out plans to cope with enemy forces effectively in all directions. On the basis of correctly forecasting situations, the balance of power between our forces and the enemy’s, and the guideline of “surrounding citadels, destroying reinforcements,” the insurgents did not concentrate all of their strength on attacking the Citadel of Dong Quan but left part of their troops to besiege the Citadel and deployed the majority of their force to annihilate the reinforcements. On realising this plan, the Insurgents Command established a solid, interconnected, in-depth posture to engage the enemy in Chi Lang – Xuong Giang as follows.

First, selection of directions and areas to interdict the enemy forces suitable for hiding troops and establishing fighting formations. On being informed about the enemy’s approaching reinforcements, Lam Son insurgents continued to tighten the ring of siege around the Citadel of Dong Quan with the aim to completely isolate the troops inside and disrupt all of their communications with the two approaching armies while actively preparing the theatre of war to engage the enemy reinforcements in the directions of Guangxi and Yunnan. The question arose as to whether or not we fought the two armies concurrently. Which one would we attack first if we engaged one army after another? This matter needed careful consideration in order to identify the main opponents, strategic direction and objectives. If we had engaged the two army concurrently, our forces would have been dispersed and difficult to win the battles. Consequently, the Insurgents Command was determined to concentrate most of the strength to annihilate one army and use a small part of their forces to restrain the rest. If we had concentrated our forces to fight the army led by Mu Sheng, we would have secured victory easily but been unable to stop the advancement of Liu Sheng’s army. Therefore, the Command decided to destroy Liu Sheng’s reinforcements and restrain Mu Sheng’s army.

Apart from selection of directions, objectives, and opponents, the Command chose Chi Lang Pass as the strategic combat area with the enemy. This was a daring decision in posture establishment. Chi Lang Pass was situated in a position of significant importance in military terms and regarded as “Achilles’ heel of Giao Chi” and “chokepoint of entering forces.” It was also the craggiest terrain in Lang Son Province on the way from Pha Luy to Dong Quan. Chi Lang Pass was a small oval-shaped valley, which was narrow at the Southern and Northern ends with a length of four kilometres and the largest width of one kilometre. There were high rocky mountains on all sides, which made it difficult for the enemy to escape. As for Lam Son insurgents, the craggy mountainous terrain was the places for them to hide themselves and establish fighting formations. If ambush had been set up only at Chi Lang Pass, the insurgents could not have been able to destroy 100,000 enemy troops at the same time, Consequently, the Insurgent Command organised the battlefields deep in the territory along the only path of Pha Luy – Chi Lang – Xuong Giang. This road ran through massive mountains and forests of Lang Son, Lang Giang, and Bac Giang and was dotted with rivers. The mountains and forests of Chi Lang had witnessed many glorious feats of arms of our people in the history of fighting against foreign aggressors. The selection of Chi Lang as battle area proved the sensibility of the Command of Lam Son Insurgents.

Second, disposition of forces and thorny, solid, interconnected ambush layout. The Command’s selection for engaging the army led by the experienced general Liu Sheng was a sound, artful decision made by Le Loi and Nguyen Trai. Liu Sheng was still young but had a wealth of combat experience. Given his arrogance and possession of 100,000 troops in hand, he would underestimate the opponents in the absence of any resistance. On grasping the enemy general’s weaknesses and exploiting the thorny terrain of mountains and jungles, the Insurgent Command organised forces and laid the ambush battle grounds in a solid, interconnected manner to ensure triumph over the enemy’s main army. Accordingly, the Command assigned Tran Luu and Le Boi to defend Pha Luy Pass and pretended to be weaker and retreat when the enemy forces attacked. This would make Liu Sheng more subjective and underestimate our strength, thus gradually luring his army to Chi Lang Pass. Generals Le Sat, Luu Nhan Chu, Dinh Liet, Pham Van Liem, etc., were tasked with commanding 10,000 troops, 100 horses, and five elephants and laying the ambush battle ground at Chi Lang Pass. Generals Nguyen Ly and Le Van An led 30,000 troops to provide support to Le Sat and Luu Nhan Chu and jointly prepare an ambush battle ground in Can Tram (a short distance from Chi Lang Pass) to be ready to engage the enemy forces once they broke through Chi Lang Pass. Additionally, our forces were garrisoned in the Citadels of Xuong Giang and Thi Cau. Thus, we created a closed blockade with many layers and lines on the only way to Dong Quan, which made the enemy on the horns of a dilemma. Nguyen Trai called this the posture of “laying ambush to defeat the vanguard.”

From the headquarters, Le Loi and Nguyen Trai directly monitored and gave instructions on fighting the enemy reinforcements and maintaining an essential force to provide support to directions of attack. Beside kinetic attack, Nguyen Trai also prepared a plan to strike at the hearts of enemy troops to undermine their morale. Logistical support for the insurgents was also prepared carefully. A large amount of food for men and horses was stored in the Citadel of Xuong Giang. The disposition of forces, thorny, in-depth ambush grounds, and logistical, technical support served to generate posture and power for Lam Son insurgents to fight the enemy.

Third, nonstop attacks by various ways of fighting in each battle. On the basis of correctly analysing and assessing situations, comparing balance of power between two sides, fighting techniques and capacity of the insurgents, terrain, and the resolve to “defeat the vanguard,” the Command ordered the insurgents to engage the enemy’s main column of troops across the theatre of war by various ways of fighting. Therefore, when Liu Sheng’s forces approached the border, general Tran Luu led part of the insurgents to fight a fierce battle, driving the enemy forces to panic. When they regained composure and sought to fight back again us, our forces counter-attacked and pretended to lose the battle in order to trick them to go to our ambush battle ground. Given his arrogance and subjectivity, Liu Sheng led the cavalry to aggressively enter Chi Lang Pass without doubt. When the enemy cavalry completely fell into our ambush battle ground, general Tran Luu’s army collaborated with the ambush force to fight as one man against the foreign aggressors. The battle took place and ended after a short period of fighting when Liu Sheng was killed, and his cavalry fled in panic.

Although Liu Sheng had been killed, Liang Ming and Li Qing persistently ordered his troops to reorganise the ranks to overcome Chi Lang Pass and advance towards Can Tram. When the enemy formation had completely fallen into our ambush battle ground stretching along the road for almost five kilometres, 30,000 troops struck as one man at both flanks of their formation. After victory at Chi Lang Pass, 10 thousand troops commanded by Le Sat and Luu Nhan Chu continued to chase after and attack at the back of the enemy formation. Having killed almost twenty thousand enemy troops and confiscated a great deal of food for men and horses as well as weapons, we proactively established a posture to surround the enemy and isolate them in Xuong Giang. The Insurgent Command did not intend to launch attacks immediately but besieged the enemy troops for a period of time to make them exhausted. At the same time, we strengthened our forces to engage Mu Sheng’s army. Having been informed about Liu Sheng’s catastrophic failure and received a letter from Le Loi and Liu Sheng’s royal seal, Mu Sheng’s army was extremely frightened and fled to their country at night. On predicting the situation, our forces made all preparations, chased after, and killed 10 thousand enemy troops, captured one thousand others, one thousand horses, a great deal of food for men and horses, and weapons. Triumphs over two enemy armies in Chi Lang, Can Tram, Xuong Giang contributed to victory of the war of resistance against Ming aggressors while affirming Lam Son Insurgent Command’s creative application of “using the few to counter the many and the small to defeat the big.”

Lam Son insurgents’ art of posture establishment at the Battle of Chi Lang – Xuong Giang almost 600 years ago remains invaluable and needs creative application during the cause of safeguarding the Homeland.

Senior Colonel, Doctor NGUYEN HUY DONG

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