Battles of Liegnitz & Mohi
Mongols in Europe
After the great kuriltai in 1235, the Mongol army under Batu and Subodai advanced into Eastern Europe. By 1241 all major settlements except Novgorod in Northern Russia was either completely destroyed or under Mongol control. Their next target was Hungary, which with its' wide, grassy plains protected by the Carpathian Mountains to the North offered a perfect base for any future attacks on Western Europe. On top of this several Russian princes, who had fled the Mongols from Kiev were also given safe haven by King Bela of Hungary.
The attack was planned with meticulous precision, impressive even for a Mongol army. The main target was Pest but to cover the vulnerable right flank a smaller contingent was sent north into Poland which almost amounted to an invasion. Kaidan was in charge of the Northern expedition which turned out to be almost equally as devastating as the main vanguard's assault into Hungary. Kaidan's first target was the ancient city of Krakow. After retiring from Sandomir, Boleslav ruler of Krakow was forced to abandon Krakow which was then burnt to the ground. Kaidan then split his forces into two - one would ravage Northern Poland whilst Kaidan himself would advance on Breslau. Believing the citadel at Breslau to be impregnable Kaidan decided instead to attack the army of Silesia under King Henry II "the Pious".
The battle of Liegnitz
King Henry marched out to meet the Mongol army near Liegnitz but as he rode out he was almost struck by a stone that fell from the roof of Saint Mary's Church. This was considered a bad omen. King Henry had numerous allies divided into four armies. The first was Henry's own hand picked army made up of Silesians, Lithuanians, and Poles, the second was a contingent of heavily armoured Teutonic knights under their grand master, the third was a Polish army, whilst the fourth was made up of Silesian peasants. A number of Templar knights were also reported to be present amongst Henry's allies.
Despite the Mongols having an elite army they also had another important factor on their side, the divisions amongst their enemies. The Europeans were divided and had different things at stake whereas the Mongols had one united goal.
The Mongols began by burning reeds which gave off a thick, foul smelling smoke which acted as a smoke screen concealing the Mongols movements. Then the Mongol light cavalry rode out firing arrows at the Polish army then withdrawing. The Poles and Teutonic knights charged the Mongol light cavalry brushing them aside. Intoxicated by their success, they chased the fleeing Mongols into the smoke. They had been led into an ambush. From all sides the Mongol heavy cavalry charged into the Teutonic knights and soon they enveloped the Poles also. Few emerged from the smoke and the Teutonic grand master lay dead.
The rest of Henry's army fell into panic and soon after Henry was surrounded by all sides. He was captured, stripped, decapitated then had his head paraded on a spear. By the end of the battle almost 40 000 lay dead including over 500 Templars. Still a day away, King Wenceslas Czech force of 50 000 which had come to aid Henry fled into the Carpathians. The defeat struck fear into the very soul of Europe. Henry's body was later identified by his wife, Jadwiga who recognised the six toes on his left foot.
As decisive as Liegnitz was it was not the Mongol's real target. As Kaidan was invading Poland, four separate Mongol contingents were crossing the Carpathians heading for the Hungarian city of Pest. Baidar led the North-most, Batu headed through Galacia, Guyuk through Moldavia and Transylvania and Subodai swept through the South via the Mehedia pass. The army assembled at Pest and offered King Bela a chance to submit, which was refused.
With no word yet from Poland and the possibility of reinforcements for Bela from the Danube, Subodai, the mastermind of the invasion, ordered the army to withdraw and lure Henry away from reinforcements. Next was a slow, skirmishing retreat eastwards over six days until the Mongols set up camp on the Eastern bank of the Sajo River. The position was a good one, elevated on rising ground and the river was split by swamplands. King Bela set up camp on the opposite side of the river. Batu noticed how closely together the Hungarian tents were and encouraged his men by pointing out the Hungarian's strategic flaws.
This was just a day after Liegnitz, which was hardly a coincidence. The Mongol communication line was swift and reliable. It had sent a message from Liegitz to the Sajo River (450 km) in 36 hours.
The battle of Mohi
The Mongols would attack the Hungarian camp at night. They fired firebombs from catapults into the camp and arrows rained down upon the defenders. Batu led his troops across the bridge which was defended by only 1000 Hungarians led by King Kolomon, Duke of Slavonika. Despite brave and stubborn resistance including a Hungarian soldier throwing a Mongol officer from his horse into the river, the Hungarians were soon forced to fall back by the Mongol archers and artillery.
Subodai himself led a surprise attack into the Hungarian flanks. The Mongols had crossed the river 10 km down by making log rafts that had been concealed in the swamp. As the Mongols reached the Hungarian camp panic set in and many tripped over tent ropes. Noticing a gap in the Mongol line the Hungarians took their chance and retreated but it was a trap. It would take far less effort and less casualties to allow the Mongol light cavalry to hunt down the fleeing enemy. The trail of bodies would be spread out over a two day journey but Bela himself escaped. 65 000 were slain in total including 3 arch-bishops, 4 bishops and 2 arch-deacons, which was basically all men of religious power in the region.
The Mongols had inflicted two major defeats on the joint European powers less than two days apart. After the victory at Mohi, Pest was relatively defenceless and much of the city was burnt to the ground. 10 000 were killed, many of whom were seeking refuge in the Dominican monastery. Bela fled North into the mountains before moving South into Croatia where he found sanctuary on the off shore islands. Kaidan followed him as far as the Adriatic before moving into Albania.
In less than 4 months Central Europe had been brought to its' knees. Europe was living in fear of the Mongols. In winter they crossed the frozen Danube and began raiding in Austria. They were within striking distance of Vienna until in February 1242 news arrived of Ogedai Khan's death. The bulk of the Mongol army headed eastwards towards Mongolia. They would never return this far West again.
Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire by Jean-Paul Roux
The Mongols by Stephen Turnbull
Genghis Khan - Life, death and resurrection by John Man
Various internet sources
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