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The art of combining naval - ground warfare in the battle of Rach Gam – Xoai Mut (1875)

In the history of national defensive wars, victories of naval battles against foreign aggressors are mainly attributed to the distinctive art of combining naval-ground warfare. The battle of Rach Gam – Xoai Mut (1785) of Tay Son troops which defeated 50 thousand Siamese troops is such an outstanding case.

An illustrative picture potraying Nguyen Hue commanding the battle 

In the late of July 1784, under the guise of “help Nguyen Anh defeat Tay Son troops and recover status”, Siamese King sent 20 thousand navy men with 300 vessels and 30 thousand infantrymen to invade our country. In the early stage of our resistance war against Siamese troops in Gia Dinh – My Tho area, we faced severe disadvantage in terms of strength. Facing the massive attacks of Siamese troops, Tay Son troops (under the command of Truong Van Da) had to withdraw to preserve forces, conducting small fights to suppress the enemy while waiting for reinforcement.  At the end of the year, with initial advantage, Siamese troops occupied nearly half of Gia Dinh. Nevertheless, easy victory made them overconfident. They did not think of advancing but just jobbed and oppressed innocent civilians. For this reason, the contradiction between Siamese, Nguyen Anh and our people became increasingly severe. People in Gia Dinh were imbued with hatred. They turned support to and waited for the arrival of the main Tay Son troops.

Being briefed the situation, Nguyen Hue made appreciation and led 20 thousand troops heading for Gia Dinh by boats. With high determination, bravery and cleverness, Tay Son troops smashed 50 thousand Siamese troops in the battle of Rach Gam – Xoai Mut with many specific arts of war, notably the combination of naval-ground warfare, which is shown in the following contents:

1. Choosing dangerous and important combat ground for combining the two kinds of warfare.

Entering the south, Nguyen Hue did not penetrate Gia Dinh where general Truong Van Da was garrisoning. Instead, he stationed his troops in My Tho to hide the force and recced the situation for making plan. At this time, though being reinforced Tay Son troop was still in numerical inferiority, compared to the Siamese in Sa Dec. Hence, if attacked into the enemy’s garrison, there would have been little likelihood of a victory but a defeat. The wise thing to do was to use tricks to lure the enemy out of its post into ground which best serve our troops and was unfavourable to the enemy.

However, the enemy’s navy men were consisted of large number of troops and big ships. If we had only conducted naval warfare, we would have had little chance to defeat them. Moreover, most of Tay Son troops had just travelled a long distance. They haven’t got familiar with local climate and terrain. Therefore, to ensure a victory, we had to choose a suitable ground where we could combine the two kinds of warfare to create a synergy. This must be most beneficial to us and challenging to the enemy. After careful consideration, Nguyen Hue chose Rach Gam Xoai Mut area of My Tho river as the main battle ground. This stretch is around 7km long and 1 to 2 km wide. It can hold hundreds of enemy’s ships. Furthermore, Rach Gam and Xoai Mut are two  small arroyos but of importance to our posture. The Tay Son navy men could be positioned on the two arroyos to form up two columns locking the enemy, preventing them from advancing and retreating when they enter our planned ground. In the middle of the arroyos, there were islands where the Tay Son could position their troops and artilleries to attack on the two enemy’s sides. Nguyen Hue was also able to hide his boats and men along the canals on the islands. Choosing the Rach Gam Xoai Mut area of My Tho river as the battle ground, Nguyen Hue proved himself to be outstanding in making use of the terrain. In reality, it has contributed greatly to the victory of the Tay Son with 20 thousands men over the Siamese with 50 thousand ones in just one day.

2. Setting up a firm and continual ambush which promoted strength of naval and ground force.

In the battle of Rach Gam Xoai Mut, due to our numerical inferiority, the Tay Son had to ambush to attack the enemy. For this reason, the making of a continual, firm and in-depth posture is of vital to the victory of the battle. Fully aware of the matter, Nguyen Hue ordered his men to make a careful recce of the terrain, especially the current, channels, river mouths, and the two river banks for deploying his force. At the same time, he ordered his troops (both naval and ground forces) to secretly maneuver into the chosen rendezvous. Because of the fact that, in the Rach Gam and Xoai Mut area  there is little cover which can be utilized for the battle, force deployment and combat posture were decisive to the effectiveness of the battle. At the area, besides deploying his seasoned naval troops, Nguyen Hue also mounted his artilleries and part of his troops on the two river banks. On the two flanks of the ambush, Nguyen Hue also deployed his naval and ground forces on channels.

What’s more, Nguyen Hue also made the enemy overconfident. At first, he only carried out small fights and withdrew his troops pretending to be defeated. Then he expressed his call for peace to the Siamese, making them incautiously advance their troops and fall into our trap.

The Tay Son has set up a perfect, firm, dangerous and in-depth combat posture. It not only made the most of Tay Son synergy but also the enemy unprepared and soon be destroyed.

3. Applying methods and means creatively and flexibly to coordinate naval with ground warfare in all directions.

After deploying his forces, Nguyen Hue actively provoked the Siamese and lured them into our prepared ambush. Notably, the Tay Son’s provocation coincided with the Siamese planned offensive attack. As soon as the provocation, the Siamese rushed to attack into the Tay Son’s headquarters with the aim of occupying the whole province of My Tho.

When the whole enemy had gone into our trap, Nguyen Hue started his fight. Two columns of the Tay Son suddenly appeared from Rach Gam and Xoai Mut locking the two ends of the enemy. At first, relying on their numerical superiority and their big fleets, the Siam aggressively engaged and caused us some damage. Then when Nguyen Hue opened fire from the two banks, the Siamese soon came to know that they were ambushed. Being blocked up from both ends and fired from two flanks, the Siamese got extremely panicked. Immediately, Tay Son troops from channels headed into and divided the enemy’s formation into small batches for easy annihilation. Under the direct command of Nguyen Hue, Tay Son troops determinedly and bravely engaged and destroyed the Siamese batch by batch. The majority of the enemy was killed. Nguyen Anh and the two Siamese generals luckily escaped to Thailand. 

With high determination, using unique combat art and having good “wisdom, plan, posture and opportunity”, the Tay Son has defeated 50,000 Siamese troops and sunk hundreds of vessels. The strategic battle of Rach Gam – Xoai Mut is a typical example of the coordination between naval and ground warfare by ambush in the country’s history of countering foreign aggressors. The victory has wiped out foreign aggressor and smashed down their will of invasion. The lesson drawn from the battle is still of value, deserves to be studied and applied into our present cause of national defence.

Ha Thanh

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