Battle of Kalka River

By Bloodswan

The Mongols enter Russia

The first Mongol attacks into Russia were little more than reconnaisance misions. After conquering much of the Middle East, Genghis Khan sent 4 tumens (40 000 men) along with the great generals Subodai Bahadur and Jebe Noyan into the Caucasus. After attacking Armenia and defeating the Alans they continued Northwards and defeated a large Georgian army before moving into Crimea and capturing a Genoese trading outpost in Sudak. Many Kipchaks ( called Polovtsians by the Russians) were displaced by the Mongols. In 1223 Koten Khan of the Kipchaks convinced the Russian prince of Galicia, Mstislav Mstislavich into a alliance against the Mongols hoping to drive them back into the East.

At the same time the Mongols were having trouble getting reinforcements and decided to send an embassy offering peace. It was declined and the ambassadors killed. The Russians set off removing the small Mongol forces that had broken away from the main body of the army. The Russians were less than impressed by the Mongols they saw. The first Mongols they saw were unarmoured horsemen armed only with bows and lassos and in small numbers they were defeated easily. This was deceiving though as the Mongol army was much better equipped than any previous Mongol army due to their recent success in the Middle East. Subodai's army had a high number of heavily armoured cavalry that would ultimately be the key to the battle at the Kalka river.

The Russians amassed a large army. Prince Mstislav Mstislavich led the Galicians, Prince Mstislav Romanovich led the Kiev contingent, Prince Daniil Romanovich led the army of Volhynia with Koten Khan leading his Polovtsians. The armies of Chernigov and Kursk was also present. The Russsian army assembled at Khortytsva on the Dnieper river. Mstislav Mstislavich led an attck upon the Eastern bank where a small Mongol army was camped. The Mongols retreated but their leader Gemyabek captured and executed. Prince Daniil then led a reconnaissance force which defeated another small Mongol army. Soon after the entire Russian force set out to attack the main Mongol army. The Mongols under Subodai and Jebe retreated to the Kalka river where they would plan an effective counter to the Russians.

Battle of the Kalka River

Whilst the Mongols were planning their attack the Russians were fighting and disagreeing over strategies. This meant that the army was divided and they did not reach the Kalka at the same time. Although they were well armed and numbered 80 000, only 20 000 were properly trained. On top of this only the Polovtsians had regularly encountered nomadic armies before, most Russians were used to fighting European style armies. In short, they were ill-prepared to deal with the Mongol threat despite outnumbering them at least three to one.

The division within the Russian armies meant that the Volhynians and Polovtsians arrived at the Kalka first. The Galicians and army of Chernigov were behind them with the Kievans further back. The Mongol light cavalry attacked the Volhynians and Polovtsians first. The Polovtsians were as used to skirmishing as the Mongols and their superior numbers coupled with the extra Volhynian army appeared to have proved decisive. The Mongols retreated across the bridge. Again the Russians failed to co-ordinate their attacks and they crossed the bridge in seperate formations. The first army across was made up of 10 units of lightly armoured horse archers and 3 units of heavy cavalry. As they followed the Mongol light cavalry further East Subodai played his trump card - The Mongol heavy cavalry. The Heavy cavalry charged the lightly armoured Polovtsians and crushed them easily sending the Volhynians into a retreat. As they frantically tried to cross the river they ran over their own Galician allies who had just made it across the bridge, this coupled by a second attack by the light horse archers sent the Galician army into disaray. It was then that the Mongol left and right wings under Tsugyr and Teshi Khan were thrown into the battle. They hit the Galician army in both flanks and sent them into retreat. The Chernigov army soon fled West whilst the Kievans who saw what was happening pulled their wagons together an started building field fortifications to form a defensive formation.

The Mongol heavy cavalry charge

As the Russian army retreated the light cavalry began hunting them down as far as 100 km West of the Kalka. Prince Mstislav Mstislavich of Galicia managed to escape but as it would turn out he would be the only Russian leader to do so. Meanwhile Tsugyr and Teshi Khan led attacks on the army of Kiev. They held out for two long days until a lack of water meant a decision had to be made. Mstislav Romanovich would have to surrender. The Mongols promised no blood of any prince would be spilled if they surrendered but upon their surrender some were slaughtered and others taken prisoner. The were tied up and thrown beneath a large wooden plank where they would slowly suffocate to death as the Mongol leaders ate upon the plank. This cruel end for the Russian princes was revenge for the Mongol ambassadors who had been previously executed. True to their word though, no princely blood was spilt.

A Mongol light cavalry man who has killed a Russian soldier

By the end of the battle six Russian princes and seventy noblemen were dead along with over half of their armies. Many of the Russian soldier who fled were killed by the light horse archers who had set of in their pursuit. The Polovtsians or Kipchaks would flee to Hungary. This was just the beginning of the Mongol attacks on Russia but for now the army returned East to join up with the main Mongol vanguard. Jebe was killed by a disease on the way. The Mongol reconaissance team had crossed 4000 miles in three years and suffered only one minor defeat by the Bulgars on their return.


Kalka River 1223 by D Nicolle & V Shpakovsky
The Mongols by Stephen Turnbull
Genghis Khan - life, death and resurrection by John Man
The Mongols by David Morgan
Various internet sources