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Military Advances Of Genghis Khan

The Mongol army was one of the most feared armies of the 12th and 13th century because of their superior strategy and their exceptional mobility. Genghis Khan and others instituted various innovations that significantly helped his Mongol forces conquer large areas of territory though often being outnumbered in battles.

Genghis Khan organized the Mongol soldiers into groups based around the number ten, i.e. 10 (arban), 100 (jaghun), 1,000 (mingghan), 10,000 (tumen), and each group of soldiers had a leader who would report higher up in his rank, up to the rank of tumen. This command structure proved to be highly flexible and allowed the Mongol army to attack en masse, divide into somewhat smaller groups to encircle and lead enemies into an ambush, or divide into small groups of 10 to mop up a fleeing and broken army. The Mongol army also was highly flexible due to the durability of its soldiers. Each Mongol soldier would have between 2 and 4 horses, allowing them to gallop  for days without stopping or tiring. The Mongol soldier also could live for days off only his horse's blood and eating horse meat if times were hard.

When integrating new soldiers into the army, Genghis Khan divided the soldiers under different leaders to break up the social and tribal connections, so that there was no division based on heritage of tribal alliances. In all campaigns, the soldiers took their families along with them for the battle. Promotion was based only on merit. Each unit leader was responsible for the preparedness of his soldiers at any time and would be replaced if this was found lacking.

Mongol soldiers were very mobile as compared to their counterparts. This would ultimately lead to better terrain scanning, learning of routes, assimilating local knowledge, and recognition of pitfalls for battle. Better mobility along with excellent political and military organization that was based upon horse speed led to the creation of a complex intelligence network and better battlefield scenarios.

Mongol cavalry soldiers, called Keshik, were extremely light troops compared to contemporary standards, allowing them to practice tactics and false retreats that would be impractical for a heavier enemy (such as European knights). Mongols under Genghis Khan and his descendants were the perfection of light cavalry/horse archer warfare. One of the commonly used techniques of Mongol soldiers was the feinted retreat. In the middle of battle, a Mongol unit or whole army would retreat suddenly, giving the opposition false confidence. After that, the opposition would find itself surrounded by Mongol soldiers that would eventually shower them with arrows. Mongols didn't favor close combat but rather preferred to fight from a distance with their bows (that could shoot up to 350 yards) and long-practiced marksmanship from horses.
It should be noted that the national sport of Afghanistan, known as Buzkashi, is reported to have come from the Mongols who often practiced the sport to sharpen their horsemenship.

In terms of battle detail, a Mongol army leader during battle might be anywhere in the formation  and would use flags and horns to order his strategies during the battle. To the Mongols, victory seemed to matter most, and they couldn't afford to lose battles nor men because they were poor in logistics and had few spare troops (at best half as many soldiers in almost all major battles than their enemies, and travelling far away from their homeland). The main weapon of the Mongol  soldiers was the Hun bow and curved sword, lighter and more efficient for slashing and parrying than the European long sword. The rules of engagement were clear under Genghis Khan. For example, if two or more soldiers broke away from their group without their leader's approval, they would be put to death. The Mongol style of engaging in warfare seemed to be natural to their nomadic way of life, as they were comfortable with travelling long distances. Genghis Khan added the one necessary ingredient, which was strict discipline, to his armies which were similar to many armies of the steppes during the time.

Genghis Khan's military philosophy in general was to defeat opponents with the least risk and cost to the Mongols, relying on his loyal and meritocratically chosen generals and his soldiers.

Before invasion of an opposing area, Genghis Khan and his generals made extensive preparations in a Kurultai, or military council, to decide how the upcoming war would be conducted and as well which generals would participate; meanwhile they would thoroughly accumulate intelligence about their opponents, after which the course of hostilities would be calculated through. From this campaign planning, they decided how many units would be needed. Nevertheless, Mongol generals were armed with a high degree of independent decision-making privilege, provided they abided by Genghis Khan's general directives. Because of the light nature of Mongol armies, Genghis Khan built a sophisticated intelligence network through the Mongol army, trade networks and vassals.

Even though Mongol strategy seemed to vary slightly in response to their enemies, their actual tactics often remained the same. The idea and the advantage of flanking forces was to spread terror, gather intelligence on their opponents, and eliminate smaller opposing forces. These flanking columns had messengers that quickly relayed intelligence to the central column. Mongol armies were willing to engage field armies before seeking battle with the main opposition. Mongols were experts in laying sieges, often diverting rivers and food from cities. They also sent off refugees to other unconquered cities, in order to strain enemy resources.

Genghis Khan used psychological warfare successfully in many of his battles, especially in terms of spreading terror and fear to other towns and cities. For example, Genghis Khan would often offer an opportunity for the enemy to surrender and pay tribute. If the offer was refused, he would invade and destroy the cities and towns, but allow a few civilians to flee to spread words of their loss to other areas. When words got out that Genghis Khan's force destroyed any resistance, it became much harder for other leaders to persuade their people to resist. Genghis Khan's offer for his opponents was to either surrender and pay tribute or be killed. When besieging, Genghis Khan usually left a submissive town unharmed and guaranteed them protection as a resource for future campaigns and logistics; if they resisted, however, he would attack without mercy.

The Mongol army's success was - in great opposition to the other successful armies until that time - different. When - for example - Alexander the Great, used the tactic of close combat , heavy cavalry and not very much weight on archery, Genghis men were the total opposite. The Mongols rode with extremely light armor, only strong enough to stand against enemy arrows, but they could ride very fast. Some Mongols rode up to 600 kilometers a day, and the hun bow  used by the mongols could kill an enemy wearing heavy armor up to 500 meters (more than 1540 feet) away. Though the Mongolians were reknowned for their use of bow and arrow, a little known fact is that it went hand in hand with lances.

Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia
19 Apr 2007

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