The Mongol Army
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The Mongols had large armies, certainly; but it is their character rather than their size which is crucial
“His army is as numerous as ants and locusts. His warriors are as brave as lions.”
Historians used to opine that the Mongols success was a result of their overwhelmingly large armies. They proved to be superior to all their enemies, across the globe, having rarely lost a dramatic battle. Quality, not quantity, was the key to the incredible unbroken chain of Mongolian military successes. In the following essay, I will discuss the aspects of the Mongolian armys character and assess the reasons for its success.
Chain of command. While the final word came from the supreme Khan, and everyone was obliged to obey, Chingiz Khan introduced a system of leadership assignment that left room for initiative. Like all great leaders, knowing to delegate tasks is vital to a successful command. This way, each Mongol warrior was simply incomparably superior to their enemies. Thus, leaders at every level could always be entrusted with a high degree of independence in the decisions and in the execution of the different war tactics.
After the death of Chingis Khan in 1227, none of his successors inherited his military genius. For this reason, although his sons and grandsons held the nominal command, the real power rested with the generals he picked when he was still alive. The Great Mongolian campaign in Russia and Europe, was lead by one of Chingizs gratest generals, Subedei. Under the teachings of Chingiz, he was known for his mastery of every aspect of warfare, such as intelligence, psychological warfare, military tactics, strategy and logistics
The organization of the army was based on the decimal system. The largest unit was the tjumen, which was made up of 10,000 troops. A large army used to consist of three tjumens, one consisting of troops who were to perform close combat, the two others were meant to encircle the opponent from both sides. Each tjumen consisted of ten regiments, each of 1000 troops. The 1.000 strong unit was called a mingghan. Each of these regiments consisted of ten squadrons of 100 troops, called jaghun, each of which was divided into ten units of ten, called arban. There was also an elite tjumen, an imperial guard which was composed of specially trained and selected troops. As for the command structure, the ten soldiers of each arban elected their commander by majority vote, and all of the ten commanders of the ten arbans of a tjumen elected the commander of a jaghunby the same procedure. Above that level, the khan personally appointed the commanders of each tjumen and mingghan. This appointment was made on criteria of ability, not age or social origin and definitely not just because his father was a commander.
The Mongol warrior used to wear Chinese silk underwear, if it could be obtained. One would not normally consider underwear to be military equipment, but the fact is that silk is a very tough substance. If arrows are shot from a larger distance, they will not easily penetrate the silk. Even if an arrow penetrates the human skin, the silk may hold, so that the arrow can be drawn out from the wound by pulling the silk around. This would also prevent poison from entering the blood. Outside the normal clothes, the warrior carried a protective shield of light yet effective leather armor, also to protect it against cold weather. Often their horses also carried this type of leather armor. Mongol warriors also wore helmets, the upper part of which was made of metal, the parts covering the ears and neck were in leather.
The legs were often protected by overlapping iron plates resembling fish scales, which were sewn into the boots. They looked like samurai warriors. Each warrior carried a battle axe, a curved sword known as scimitar; and a lance.
In addition to the light weaponry described above, the Mongols had a variety of heavy machines that they learnt how to make from the Chinese. These advanced weapons were the inventions of