The “Divine Winds” [Kamikaze] of
winds” were thought sent by the gods to protect Japan. In 1268 Mongol envoys arrive in Japan with a message from the Mongol ruler, Kublai Khan. The
Japanese at this time have two centres of power. The apparent ruler is the
emperor, living in Kyoto. The real ruler is the military Regent Bakufu in Kamakura. The emperor is terrified. He has heard tales from the Sung
about Mongol atrocities and their military skill. But the Bakufu is insulted
and defiant. The envoys are sent home without a reply, snubbing Kublai Khan’s
offer. The Mongols build a fleet in their Korean vassal state, the Kingdom of Koryu. In November 1274, 900 ships set sail with 25,000 Mongol
soldiers and 15,000 Koreans. Japan has no deep sea ships to speak of, so the
fleet heads toward Japan unhindered. They first attack the island of Tsushima. Next, the island of Iki falls. On November 19th or 20th the Mongols land at Imazu in Hakata Bay, Kyushu.
has a force of 6,000-10,000 Samurai waiting at Hakata Bay, but they are unfamiliar with the tactics of the Mongols and
are hit hard by the Mongol artillery. The fighting is fierce all day, but the
Mongol forces make steady progress. Japanese reinforcements are sent to Hakata Bay. By the time help arrives, the surviving defenders have been
pushed back to Hakata, the modern-day city of Fukuoka.
The Mongols feared
a counter-attack when the darkness made their artillery useless, and took to
the safety of their ships, burning a shrine to cover their retreat. A hurricane
then tore through the area. 200 ships are sunk and 13,000 soldiers never return
to Koryu. The first invasion is over.
In 1279, the
Sung Dynasty in southern China falls to the Mongols. The defeated Sung army and navy become part
of a new invasion force. In Koryu, the force consists of 900 ships with 30,000
Mongol soldiers and 10,000 Koreans. In southern China, 3,500 ships are prepared, carrying 100,000 Chinese soldiers.
The Bakufu has not been idle, however. While spies kept watch on the mainland,
a wall is built around Hakata Bay. The wall is 13 miles long and about 8 feet high. It is
vertical, facing the bay, but the inland side is angled to allow horses to
climb it. Defences are also built elsewhere, and soldiers are stationed along
the western coast and the inland sea.
The fleet from
China is delayed. The fleet at Koryu decides not to wait for them,
and sets sail on 22 May, 1281. Tsushima soon falls. Then Iki is overrun. The northern fleet is
supposed to rendezvous here with the southern fleet, but instead, it heads
straight for Hakata Bay. The Japanese are waiting for them. Almost 100,000 soldiers
are in Kyushu, and a reserve force of 20,000 more is in southern Honshu.
diversionary force sails north towards Honshu, but
on the 23rd of June, the main body lands on Shiga Spit to the north of Hakata Bay and at the north end of the wall. After several days of
fighting, only one unit manages to get a beachhead. While the invasion is
stopped on land, the Japanese strike back at sea using their large collection
of coastal fishing boats. These are loaded with soldiers, and hit-and-run
tactics are made on the Mongol fleet. Night and day, individual boats are
boarded, the crew killed, and the ship burned. These tactics are so effective
that the Mongols begin to lash their ships together and lay planks between the
ships to help repel attacks.
For a week,
attempts are made to land, but they are all fiercely thrown back. Finally, the
fleet retreats to Iki. The soldiers have been forced to stay on the cramped
ships since they could not land. The Mongols have also been renowned for their
lack of hygiene, and to make it worse, they have brought their precious horses across
the sea with them. In these unsanitary conditions, 3,000 men die of fever.
General Hong, wants to give up now, but General Kim
argues that they still have two months’ rations. The northern fleet stays at
Iki and waits for the southern fleet to arrive.
from China arrives a few squadrons at a time. One squadron attacks and
seizes the island of Hirado Jima, while another group links up with the Korean fleet at Iki on
16 July. It is decided the next attack will be made further south. The ships at
Iki move to Hirado Jima, where the entire fleet is assembled on 12 August. They
move in and take the island of Takashima at the mouth of the Imari Gulf.
second hurricane strikes on 15 August. This time, 4,000 ships are lost and
100,000 men are dead. The main islands of Japan are never again invaded.