Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Naval river warfare during the Razadarit era (c. 1416) VI

I’ve collected and summarized descriptions of river warfare from the later part of Razadarit Ayeidawpon (San Lwin’s unpublished translation). Two aspects of river warfare circa 1400 are covered in this fourth extract:

1. Stakes planted in rivers for defense.

2. Ramming and boarding other warboats.

Here is the fourth extract:

Extract 4: Ava attacks Panko (c. 1416)

While Ava was planning to attack, the Mon commander at Panko Binnya Raza, ordered three warboats to position themselves out in front of the shorter hidden stakes used for defense. When they attacked, Ava’s boats aimed for the gaps between the stakes. In the description of the two lines of boats coming together, one-on-one combat in the manner of a duel along with the individual names and personalities of warriors are a prominent feature of the narrative. It is not clear, to what degree this indicates the importance of one-on-one combat by members of the elite in warfare (in the manner of the Iliad, some of the issues that classicists have raised may be relevant here) or is just a rhetorical effect added to heighten dramatic tension. Although there were soldiers on both river and land, all the fighting took place on the river because the fortifications impeded the fighting on land:

“Minyekyawswa [Ava] signaled the governor of Salin [Ava] to attack and after the crew had made the gesture of paying obeisance to the prince surged out with the governor stationed at its helm. Salin hailed from his 156 feet long war boat challenging Smin Payan [Mon], Razadarit’s son-in-law, to show himself. Smim Payan came out to answer the challenge and Salin’s warboat, with the war drums in full cry, rammed Smin Payan’s warboat. The clash of warboats also resulted in the breaking of some of the stakes driven into the riverbed. Smin Payan’s marines grouped at the helm giving a chance for Salin’s marines to board her. Thray Sithu’s [Ava] warboat came rushing to Salin’s aid, crashing through the barrier of stakes and ramming into Smin Payan’s warboat at an angle. Smin Payan fought on undeterred and Razadarit’s sons [Mon] ordered their warboats to go to his aid but no one made a move and just looked on. Three Talaing [Mon] warboats including Deinmaniyut’s Dangaw Hamsa and Binnya Dala Baik were also on the scene but instead of going to the attack went into reverse. At this the warboats of the governors of Pandaung, Malun, and Myawaddy [?] came forward in formation. Even then Smim Payan stood his ground” (San Lwin, 131-132).

Two Mon warboats were rammed in shallow water, rupturing their hulls, but due, apparently, to the shallow water, the men aboard the boats were able to continue fighting. Minyekyawswa, the leader on the Avan side, is said to have transferred from his elephant to a warboat during the battle.

During all the fighting on the river, the stockade prevented the Avan land forces from engaging with the Mon forces. After their naval defeat, Mon commanders gathered together as many men and elephants from what remained of the stockade as they could and fled to the jungle. Avan forces pursued them. The well-known Mon elephant Bakamat in musth lost its riders, fell into a pond that it could not extricate itself from, and was finally taken captive by the Avan side (San Lwin, 132).


One has to speculate or at least pose the question: why fight on the river rather than fight on land? Why stay behind the stockade on land while engaging the enemy on the river?

If boats were available to forces fighting on land, their mobility was increased which would might have allowed them to choose when and where to engage the enemy giving them a critical edge over their opponents in battle.