Monday, April 10, 2006

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

This continues my series of descriptions of river warfare from the later part of Razadarit Ayeidawpon (condensed from San Lwin’s unpublished translation). This extract describes how (c. 1400):

1. stakes were planted in rivers for defense, and
2. warboats were lured into an ambush.

These river stakes were invisible, unlike the ground stakes that played such an important role in the Battle of Agincourt. The river stakes had much the same shock effect as the Agincourt stakes did on advancing cavalry when the archers shooting behind them withdrew in the face of a cavalry charge (Keegan, John (1976) The Face of Battle, 94-96).

The goal in the episode described here was to use a small contingent of warboats to lure a portion of a much larger fleet of warboats away from the main body and thus reduce their strength, basically a strategy of attrition. This ambush is similar in some ways to a famous ambush during the Punic wars between Rome and Carthage. At night torches were tied to the horns of oxen by Carthaginian forces who needed to make their way through a mountain pass controlled by the Romans. The cattle, providing a distraction, lured the Romans away from the pass into a crowd of javelinmen waiting in the dark (Goldsworthy, Adrian (2000) The Fall of Carthage: The Punic Wars 265-146BC, London: Cassell).

Extract 5: Razadarit’s first efforts to subjugate Bassein and Myaungmya (c. 1388)

Razadarit had a difficult time asserting control over the western delta region of Lower Burma. After Martaban was taken in 1388, news reached Razadarit that the governor he had appointed to rule Dala had allied himself with Myaungmya, so Razadarit had the governor executed. Myaungmya, however, seemed beyond his reach, being well-protected defensively, with ample manpower to wage war with, and a ruling elite that had a high level of solidarity and family ties. Razadarit decided to attack Bassein first. Bassein was controlled by three members of Myaungmya’s ruling elite: Nawratha, Smin Bya Gyin, and Laukshin.

Razadarit’s assault on Bassein was repelled by “sailing ships manned by foreigners who fired their weapons at them causing much casualties,” probably muslim Indians. Meeting this strong and unexpected resistance, Razadarit realized he had misgauged the relative power of the two towns and decided to try an attack first against Myaungmya. After Myaungmya was taken, he would have the resources to move against Bassein.

When Bassein learned of this change in strategy, it sent a contingent of warboats to aid Myaungmya. Razadarit sent Lagunein to intercept the Bassein warboats along the way at Daungpaung Lulin with a small fleet consisting of only about 100 boats with “two heavily armed warboats, four high-sterned galleys and forty fighting boats” as well as supply boats. The Myaungmya side led by Laukshein, numerically superior with 500 to 600 warboats, was encamped upriver at Panpin

Planning to overcome the numerically superior Myaungmya side with a strategem, Razadarit had stakes planted across the river from one side to the other with enough space that his warboats could paddle through them leading unwary Myaungmya boats in pursuit onto the stakes. A small group of light boats that could easily pass through the narrow channels of the river was sent with Lagunein to lure the Myaungmya boats into the trap. As the wide was rising Lagunein paddled upriver and drew the Myaungmya side downriver in pursuit. When they reached Daungpaung Lulin where the trap had been set, the pursueing boats saw the forces on land and thought that Lagunein’s men had abandoned their boats to flee by land and they paddled even harder:

“Lagunein’s men sped deftly through the staked area but the boats pursuing them were impaled on the stakes and those coming up later rammed into them turning that part of the river into a melee of sinking boats and men with those still afloat hopelessly snarled among the wreckage forcing their occupants to abandon them.” A portion of the forces were positioned on the banks of the rivers and attacked when warboats hit the stakes.