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Old 1st September 2009, 03:16 AM   #1
McHrozni
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Battle of Salsu

Hello

I'd like to discuss the battle of Salsu wikipedia entry:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_salsu
It's fairly brief, but outlines the basics.

Supposedly, a huge Chinese army numbering 300,000 men was wiped out in a flood. The Koreans have damed the river upstream, then demolished the dam to flood the army while it was crossing the river, then charged and destroyed what little force remained.

Considering the huge numbers involved and the difficulty of building such a dam, and they destroying it without explosives I find the story unlikely to put it mildly. Does anyone have or knows of any other sources about this battle? I'm a little short handed at it

McHrozni
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Old 1st September 2009, 09:01 AM   #2
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Interesting, I never heard of it before.

I went to the google machine and looked around but could not find much info, and nobody seems particularly incredulous about it.
The event also seem to have been fairly well documented at the time.


I guess it would be possible if you designed the dam to go of from the get go. Not anchoring it to the ground but rather prop it up with oblique planks and then sacrifice a bunch of slaves (or criminals) to take the planks out at the last minute.
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Old 1st September 2009, 09:41 AM   #3
McHrozni
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Originally Posted by Simon39759 View Post
Interesting, I never heard of it before.

I went to the google machine and looked around but could not find much info, and nobody seems particularly incredulous about it.
The event also seem to have been fairly well documented at the time.
Yeah, just a few Korean history parts, glorifying the Korean kingdoms. Less than perfect resources for studying one of the greatest military victories of all time, I'd say.

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I guess it would be possible if you designed the dam to go of from the get go. Not anchoring it to the ground but rather prop it up with oblique planks and then sacrifice a bunch of slaves (or criminals) to take the planks out at the last minute.
Let me illustrate the problem:

US forces crossing the river.


Modern image, probably more upstream.

It's a rather large and slow moving river, but possibly quite shallow. A dam would have to be positively huge by modern standards. Extremely wide, but also sufficiently high to be able to more than wet the ankles of the soldiers.
We are also talking about destroying an army of 300,000 men. It would be the bloodiest battle until, uh, 1915?

McHrozni

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Old 1st September 2009, 10:06 AM   #4
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How certain is it that the river looked like that at the time?

Besides, if you read the article carefully, it does not state that 300,000 were killed by flood... that casualty figure includes those killed during the retreat home.

So, the dam is broken, "many thousands" are killed, the Sui army is divided in two by the swollen river, cavalry charges the disorganized and probably demoralized troops who have their back against an impassable barrier... that sort of thing tends to get very bloody for the defeated. Then the defeated army is pursued a long way by enemy cavalry, which they probably cannot out run... more bloodshed.

Besides, cavalry tends to be fairly well-trained, as horses are expensive and you want those who ride them to carry their weight in battle. If the Chinese army was made up mostly of peasant levies rather than professional soldiers, professional cavalry forces could very well cut them to pieces, especially if they are disorganized and demoralized.
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Old 1st September 2009, 11:23 AM   #5
McHrozni
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Originally Posted by Chaos View Post
How certain is it that the river looked like that at the time?
I think the valley it is situated in didn't change enough to significantly alter the task needed to be done.

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Besides, if you read the article carefully, it does not state that 300,000 were killed by flood... that casualty figure includes those killed during the retreat home.
Right, I saw that but got slightly carried away in the post. The article does state the flood was both artificial and significant, however, and this is the part that bothers me.

Quote:
So, the dam is broken, "many thousands" are killed, the Sui army is divided in two by the swollen river, cavalry charges the disorganized and probably demoralized troops who have their back against an impassable barrier... that sort of thing tends to get very bloody for the defeated. Then the defeated army is pursued a long way by enemy cavalry, which they probably cannot out run... more bloodshed.

Besides, cavalry tends to be fairly well-trained, as horses are expensive and you want those who ride them to carry their weight in battle. If the Chinese army was made up mostly of peasant levies rather than professional soldiers, professional cavalry forces could very well cut them to pieces, especially if they are disorganized and demoralized.
Again, the problem I have with the whole thing is the artificial flood. Look at how the river looks like. Slow, and the land around it seems very flat. Moreover, if the cavalry assault was to be effective, this is where it would need to be launched. Another problem is that even a major flood in a land like pictured above (the river is in North Korea, making images of the area rather difficult to obtain) would only cause a very wide flood area, but the water level would be shallow - it would wet their ankles as I said earlier, but it would be very difficult to get a large portion to drown.
Moreover, if the ground around is soft - it does look like that in the images, and there is no reason to believe it was significantly different 1400 years ago - it'll turn the landscape into a swamp for a few days. Hardly ideal cavalry ground, I'd say. Many highly trained and well equipped cavalry forces were ruined just by that.

On the other hand, most Chinese armies were peasant levies, I believe. I don't know about this particular period, but what I've seen from Chinese historical reenactments, calling it a peasant levy army is an insult to most peasant levy armies, who were outright war machines compared to that.
It could've been just poor reenactments, however, but I don't see Chinese insulting their own history ... though incompetence could be a role.

McHrozni

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Old 1st September 2009, 11:52 AM   #6
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Interesting concept. I don't have a background on Salsu, or the specific area where the ambush is supposed to take place. If we had actual pictures of the area, that might assist in analysis, although we are dealing with a battle that is nearly 1,400 years ago. Geography would certainly have changed to some degree, rendering modern analysis based on current images somewhat suspect. Still, specific images of the area, at least some reasonable distance up and downstream, would render a better concept.

I did come across this image, which illustrates just how wide the river can be:



An army trying to cross, no matter the size, would find maintaining order tricky. A river crossing is a good place for an ambush just for this reason (I think Sun Tzu has a story illustrating just this manuever). If there was already a bridge in place upriver, it could easily be turned into a temporary dam, and, as Simon suggested, props anticipated for removal could cause the release of enough water to kill/injure a few thousand troops. It would cause confusion and chaos, allowing a strike against the troops who had either already crossed to higher land, or hadn't yet had the opportunity (and were still on high land), to be of the greatest impact. The troops in between the floor and the cavalry strikes would have been, as you suggest, mired in a sudden swamp land and rendered somewhat ineffective. They could have been dealt with later, after the ambush had been successful.

It is also my understanding that the general had been fighting a series of battles up to this point. It may have been that preparation for the ambush was begun in advance of just such a crossing, and thus foresight on the part of the general led to the victory, rather than a sudden and hasty construction.

Another thing to keep in mind is that battlefield reports of both armies and victories tend to be skewed, and accuracy is something for which historians often find difficulty in obtaining. The 300,000 number may be an exaggeration by either side, in an attempt to intimidate the other.

Again, not an expert, just my thoughts regarding the strategy that fit the stated "facts" of this battle.
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Old 1st September 2009, 11:54 AM   #7
McHrozni
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Originally Posted by RobRoy View Post
I did come across this image, which illustrates just how wide the river can be:

http://www1.korea-np.co.jp/pk/101st_...ross_Amrok.jpg
So did I. The name of the file is "Chinese_troops_Cross_Amrok.jpg". Amrok is another name for Yalu river, to the north of Salsu / Chongchon River.

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Old 1st September 2009, 11:58 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by McHrozni View Post
So did I. The name of the file is "Chinese_troops_Cross_Amrok.jpg". Amrok is another name for Yalu river, to the north of Salsu / Chongchon River.

McHrozni
I stand corrected. The caption is below the photo, and my browser brought it up as if it was above, which referenced the river in question.
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Old 1st September 2009, 12:04 PM   #9
McHrozni
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Originally Posted by RobRoy View Post
Interesting concept. I don't have a background on Salsu, or the specific area where the ambush is supposed to take place. If we had actual pictures of the area, that might assist in analysis, although we are dealing with a battle that is nearly 1,400 years ago. Geography would certainly have changed to some degree, rendering modern analysis based on current images somewhat suspect. Still, specific images of the area, at least some reasonable distance up and downstream, would render a better concept.
I've been trying to find some for that reason, but haven't had much luck so far. Perhaps Google Earth would be a better tool to map the area, or just a plan geographical map of North Korea. That should be available, but pictures will be difficult to obtain, for obvious reasons.

Considering how the terrain looks like, I doubt there were major changes in terrain. Vegetation, probably, but not landscape, not by a significant degree.

Quote:
An army trying to cross, no matter the size, would find maintaining order tricky. A river crossing is a good place for an ambush just for this reason (I think Sun Tzu has a story illustrating just this manuever). If there was already a bridge in place upriver, it could easily be turned into a temporary dam, and, as Simon suggested, props anticipated for removal could cause the release of enough water to kill/injure a few thousand troops. It would cause confusion and chaos, allowing a strike against the troops who had either already crossed to higher land, or hadn't yet had the opportunity (and were still on high land), to be of the greatest impact. The troops in between the floor and the cavalry strikes would have been, as you suggest, mired in a sudden swamp land and rendered somewhat ineffective. They could have been dealt with later, after the ambush had been successful.
I have two concerns here.
Firstly, it requires a major bridge to exist across the river beforehand, and that the retreating army does not go that route. This is possible, of course, if there is a significant blocking force there to prevent that ... but that already requires two armies, with enough men between them to force this vast army away. At the very least, this renders the 10,000 men on the other side suspect.

More importantly, it still requires engineering capacity to create an artificial lake several meters deep and a kilometer wide - at least. That, and a cavalry assault over mud make the whole issue suspect.

Quote:
It is also my understanding that the general had been fighting a series of battles up to this point. It may have been that preparation for the ambush was begun in advance of just such a crossing, and thus foresight on the part of the general led to the victory, rather than a sudden and hasty construction.
That I agree with, but then again, it would require a very complex, difficult and unlikely plan to be put in advance against what would have to be by now an inferior force.

Quote:
Another thing to keep in mind is that battlefield reports of both armies and victories tend to be skewed, and accuracy is something for which historians often find difficulty in obtaining. The 300,000 number may be an exaggeration by either side, in an attempt to intimidate the other.
That I agree with. Had the Chinese army been said to be on the order of 30,000 men, I would consider this battle to be an interesting turn of events, and not bother with it too much

Quote:
Again, not an expert, just my thoughts regarding the strategy that fit the stated "facts" of this battle.
Thanks for the analysis

McHrozni
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Old 1st September 2009, 12:05 PM   #10
McHrozni
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Originally Posted by RobRoy View Post
I stand corrected. The caption is below the photo, and my browser brought it up as if it was above, which referenced the river in question.
Yes, I know, it happened to me as well. I came close to posting this image above, but saw the file name in time, and decided to check
No real harm done.

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Old 1st September 2009, 12:23 PM   #11
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Probably one of those stories which has a grain of historical truth -- Koreans defeated Chinese in a battle where (somehow) the river helped them -- to this myth. Same is true of many old stories, e.g., in the Bible.

Monty Python's "And the people did feast upon the lambs and sloths, and carp and anchovies, and orangutans and breakfast cereals, and fruit-bats and large..." (... perhaps I'll skip a bit...) describing a feast that might or might not have happened at some time in the past captures this sort of thing quite well.
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Old 1st September 2009, 12:34 PM   #12
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Actually flat land next to a slow moving river is ideal for flooding.
You just need to build the dam downstream of the army and close it at night, the next morning they're not in flat grassland but deep in mud. Which is not exactly well conductive for fighting, once you've got them broken you open the dam and can cross again.
No idea if that is what they did, but it worked for the dutch for a very long time
(of course it doesnt quite work against planes)
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Old 1st September 2009, 01:10 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by McHrozni View Post
Considering how the terrain looks like, I doubt there were major changes in terrain. Vegetation, probably, but not landscape, not by a significant degree.
No offense intended by this, but what's your proof? I mean, if you're a geologist and you've been studying the river over the past decade, then of course I digress to such expertise. If you're just making a guess based on some photos, then allow me to provide this little example. The two photos are taken in the same location (as indicated by the horizon line), with less than 100 years apart. In that interim heavy flooding created an arroyo cutting, which destroyed the lake that you see in the first picture, and created the sharp cliff-structures that you see in the second (Reference).



More than 1,400 years have passed since this battle. The terrain could easily have changed a great deal in that amount of time.

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I have two concerns here.
Firstly, it requires a major bridge to exist across the river beforehand . . .
It doesn't require it. It was just a suggestion. A simple bottleneck valley would also suffice.

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. . . and that the retreating army does not go that route. This is possible, of course, if there is a significant blocking force there to prevent that ... but that already requires two armies, with enough men between them to force this vast army away. At the very least, this renders the 10,000 men on the other side suspect.
Not if they're unaware of the existence of said bridge. But again, it was just a suggestion on the probability. A bottleneck valley serves the same end.

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That, and a cavalry assault over mud make the whole issue suspect.
I addressed this above. The cavalry assault did not necessarily have to cross the flooded area, but could have attacked the disorganized troops on one side of the river, or both sides, leaving those troops in the new swamp area out of the fighting until later. Those troops not caught in the flood, but in the swamp land would be effectively neutralized for the initial cavalry charge.

Quote:
That I agree with, but then again, it would require a very complex, difficult and unlikely plan to be put in advance against what would have to be by now an inferior force.
Not too terribly complex. It's just a temporary structure. Building a dam that lasts is the real trick. Building one meant to be temporary isn't all that hard.

Quote:
That I agree with. Had the Chinese army been said to be on the order of 30,000 men, I would consider this battle to be an interesting turn of events, and not bother with it too much
Yes, this part is reasonably likely. I'd have to review the documents associated with the battle, and historical evidence, but I'd be surprised if there wasn't at least a few rumbles about the actual size of the forces in the battle.
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Old 1st September 2009, 01:14 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by McHrozni View Post
Hello

I'd like to discuss the battle of Salsu wikipedia entry:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_salsu
It's fairly brief, but outlines the basics.

Supposedly, a huge Chinese army numbering 300,000 men was wiped out in a flood. The Koreans have damed the river upstream, then demolished the dam to flood the army while it was crossing the river, then charged and destroyed what little force remained.

Considering the huge numbers involved and the difficulty of building such a dam, and they destroying it without explosives I find the story unlikely to put it mildly. Does anyone have or knows of any other sources about this battle? I'm a little short handed at it

McHrozni
hah! Good timing.

I just went through the wikipedia pages on major battles on eastern front of WWII and got to the battle of salsu from the Leningrad page cause it linked to a list of highest casualty numbers in battle (or some such thing).

Anyway this was an interesting story - can't comment on the veracity of it..
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Old 1st September 2009, 01:33 PM   #15
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Well; I went and look at some of the databases for historical journal and could not find any articles on the subject. It seems to have been pretty forgotten.
Wonder if any archaeological work have been down to locate and dig up the battle site, could be interesting...

Also, keep in mind that the chinese had been building very elaborate bridges for a long time at that point. I don't know about Korea, but Rob Roy's hypothesis is not out of question.
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Old 1st September 2009, 01:44 PM   #16
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What about, the Koreans construct a small, imperfect dam by, basically, cutting trees and throwing them in a narrowing of the river. and then, sand-bagging them.

It is far from perfect, but it blocks the water enough to lower the level of the river downstream.

Then, the Korean army engage the Chinese forces, like the history say they did, and withdraw.
The Chinese follow them and attempt to cross the river at a shallower passage, a ford for example. The water level is not quite dry but low enough for people to cross it, to their waist, for example.
The river is quite wide and it takes a long time (a couple of hours) for the overloaded soldiers to cross in the difficult conditions (overloaded with their armours and equipement, water to their waist, feet stucking in the bottom's mud...)

The Koreans destroy the dam, water levels rise. It takes a while, but by the time the Chinese forces realize what is happening, the troops in the middle have no time to make it to the edges before being submerged. Especially as the narrowness of the ford make any manoeuvre difficult especially once panic starts to kick in.

A relatively small numbers of soldiers actually drown, but the Chinese forces are cut in half, separated by the river, moreover, many of them are exhausted by their ordeal, many abandoned their equipment to save their life, the units' structure has broken down in the chaos of the panic and everybody is demoralised.
The Korean cavalry choose this moment to attack.

Hilarity ensue.
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Old 1st September 2009, 03:04 PM   #17
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Simon39759's scenario makes even more sense if we take McHrozni's following complaints seriously:
  • 300,000 Chinese troops - an army this size would have taken over a day to ford a river (based on comparisons to similiar fordings by American troops during the US Civil War).
  • Muddy terrain - would have slowed down the process even more, guaranteeing large numbers of troops exposed in the flood zone.
  • Wide, flat terrain - would have greatly extended the breadth of river to be forded, delaying and slowing the operation still further.
Suddenly it seems like there was plenty of time for the Koreans to pull this off.
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Old 1st September 2009, 03:10 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by Simon39759 View Post
What about, the Koreans construct a small, imperfect dam by, basically, cutting trees and throwing them in a narrowing of the river. and then, sand-bagging them.

It is far from perfect, but it blocks the water enough to lower the level of the river downstream.

Then, the Korean army engage the Chinese forces, like the history say they did, and withdraw.
The Chinese follow them and attempt to cross the river at a shallower passage, a ford for example. The water level is not quite dry but low enough for people to cross it, to their waist, for example.
The river is quite wide and it takes a long time (a couple of hours) for the overloaded soldiers to cross in the difficult conditions (overloaded with their armours and equipement, water to their waist, feet stucking in the bottom's mud...)

The Koreans destroy the dam, water levels rise. It takes a while, but by the time the Chinese forces realize what is happening, the troops in the middle have no time to make it to the edges before being submerged. Especially as the narrowness of the ford make any manoeuvre difficult especially once panic starts to kick in.

A relatively small numbers of soldiers actually drown, but the Chinese forces are cut in half, separated by the river, moreover, many of them are exhausted by their ordeal, many abandoned their equipment to save their life, the units' structure has broken down in the chaos of the panic and everybody is demoralised.
The Korean cavalry choose this moment to attack.

Hilarity ensue.
That's pretty much how I had envisioned it too. The cavalry strike needs to occur on reasonably solid ground, but it doesn't have to account for all of the soldiers, just enough to make it a sound defeat.
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Old 1st September 2009, 09:16 PM   #19
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Well, it is known that after the battle, the Chinese forces withdrew to a nearby Peninsula, where they were engaged again.
Then they decided to retreat and where harassed all the way back to China.

If I remember correctly, the 300.000 casualty figure is for the whole of the ill fated campaign.
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Old 1st September 2009, 10:58 PM   #20
McHrozni
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Originally Posted by Simon39759 View Post
Well, it is known that after the battle, the Chinese forces withdrew to a nearby Peninsula, where they were engaged again.
Then they decided to retreat and where harassed all the way back to China.
The nearby peninsula is nowadays well in China, but ok.

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If I remember correctly, the 300.000 casualty figure is for the whole of the ill fated campaign.
That I know, yes. Still, a sizable portion are said to come from this battle.

McHrozni
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Old 1st September 2009, 11:01 PM   #21
McHrozni
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Originally Posted by Simon39759 View Post
What about, the Koreans construct a small, imperfect dam by, basically, cutting trees and throwing them in a narrowing of the river. and then, sand-bagging them.

It is far from perfect, but it blocks the water enough to lower the level of the river downstream.

Then, the Korean army engage the Chinese forces, like the history say they did, and withdraw.
The Chinese follow them and attempt to cross the river at a shallower passage, a ford for example. The water level is not quite dry but low enough for people to cross it, to their waist, for example.
The river is quite wide and it takes a long time (a couple of hours) for the overloaded soldiers to cross in the difficult conditions (overloaded with their armours and equipement, water to their waist, feet stucking in the bottom's mud...)

The Koreans destroy the dam, water levels rise. It takes a while, but by the time the Chinese forces realize what is happening, the troops in the middle have no time to make it to the edges before being submerged. Especially as the narrowness of the ford make any manoeuvre difficult especially once panic starts to kick in.

A relatively small numbers of soldiers actually drown, but the Chinese forces are cut in half, separated by the river, moreover, many of them are exhausted by their ordeal, many abandoned their equipment to save their life, the units' structure has broken down in the chaos of the panic and everybody is demoralised.
The Korean cavalry choose this moment to attack.

Hilarity ensue.
This I think would be the most realistic scenario based on the data that we have here right now.

Still, would it be possible to build and then destroy a dam big enough to do this in the 7th century?

McHrozni
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Old 1st September 2009, 11:12 PM   #22
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Originally Posted by RobRoy View Post
No offense intended by this, but what's your proof? I mean, if you're a geologist and you've been studying the river over the past decade, then of course I digress to such expertise. If you're just making a guess based on some photos, then allow me to provide this little example. The two photos are taken in the same location (as indicated by the horizon line), with less than 100 years apart. In that interim heavy flooding created an arroyo cutting, which destroyed the lake that you see in the first picture, and created the sharp cliff-structures that you see in the second (Reference).

http://biology.usgs.gov/luhna/images/fig9-6a.gif http://biology.usgs.gov/luhna/images/fig9-6b.gif
None taken No, I don't have anything significant in this regard that the terrain would be vastly different back then. However considering how it is now, it couldn't have been vastly different. The river probably meanders differently, there may be some small lakes placed differently and so on, but great differance would mean apperance/disapperance of hills or cliffsides, for example. That probably didn't happen in a significant degree.

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It doesn't require it. It was just a suggestion. A simple bottleneck valley would also suffice.
I'm not convinced it would be possible to propertly dam it. Does anyone have experience with ancient construction methods, enough to make a rough prediction of how would that be made?

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Not if they're unaware of the existence of said bridge. But again, it was just a suggestion on the probability. A bottleneck valley serves the same end.
Considering that would likely be the only bridge across a major river, in an area they campaigned for a while, I find it extremely unlikely that they would be unaware of it.

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I addressed this above. The cavalry assault did not necessarily have to cross the flooded area, but could have attacked the disorganized troops on one side of the river, or both sides, leaving those troops in the new swamp area out of the fighting until later. Those troops not caught in the flood, but in the swamp land would be effectively neutralized for the initial cavalry charge.
Well, if there were gentle slopes on one or both sides of the river, this is fairly plausible. This would be one terrain feature that could easily disappear in 1400 years. However if that were the case, the flood would be unnecessary.
Assuming an earlier scenario of waist-deep water, any troops crossing or already crossed would be unavailable to assist the attacked forces on the other side. A few might be taken out by the flood and such, but the flood would have a very minor impact - and probably a negative one, since the retreating Chinese would have nowhere to run and would only have two options - fight or die.

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Not too terribly complex. It's just a temporary structure. Building a dam that lasts is the real trick. Building one meant to be temporary isn't all that hard.
Hm. Do you have a plan on how such a dam would be built and later demolished? I know that just damaging it in an appropriate place would do quite a bit of damage to it, but if the difference in water levels was small, this would be rather gradual..

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Old 1st September 2009, 11:17 PM   #23
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Originally Posted by Simon39759 View Post
Well; I went and look at some of the databases for historical journal and could not find any articles on the subject. It seems to have been pretty forgotten.
Wonder if any archaeological work have been down to locate and dig up the battle site, could be interesting...
Yeah, it's a very obscure thing. Thanks for looking

I doubt there was any archeological work done before 1949. Japanese just weren't interested in rediscovering lost Korean history, and neither were the Russians Anything after that would be done by North Korea, and let's just say their archeological work is a little below standards
Search on yourtube for "black mountain grape hominoid" to see what I mean

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Also, keep in mind that the chinese had been building very elaborate bridges for a long time at that point. I don't know about Korea, but Rob Roy's hypothesis is not out of question.
The bridge scenario, while certainly not impossible, requires the retreating Chinese army to be an inferior force, making the flood at the very least a needless complication. OK, it could've been just some redundant tactics, but ..

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Old 1st September 2009, 11:19 PM   #24
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Originally Posted by Lukraak_Sisser View Post
Actually flat land next to a slow moving river is ideal for flooding.
You just need to build the dam downstream of the army and close it at night, the next morning they're not in flat grassland but deep in mud. Which is not exactly well conductive for fighting, once you've got them broken you open the dam and can cross again.
No idea if that is what they did, but it worked for the dutch for a very long time
(of course it doesnt quite work against planes)
Well, the story says they did it the other way around - built a dam upstream, created a lake, and then released it, killing many by flooding

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Old 1st September 2009, 11:23 PM   #25
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Originally Posted by Simon39759 View Post
What about, the Koreans construct a small, imperfect dam by, basically, cutting trees and throwing them in a narrowing of the river. and then, sand-bagging them.

It is far from perfect, but it blocks the water enough to lower the level of the river downstream.
Sure, but how do you then destroy this quickly enough to create a significant flood. Explosives would do the trick, but moving a substantial number of sandbags and logs without them, in a short enough time?
(assuming they had sandbag technology to fight floods in 612, otherwise it's just logs and maybe some rocks)
I do realise that the power of the river would be a significant help in this case. Does anyone know how significant?

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Then, the Korean army engage the Chinese forces, like the history say they did, and withdraw.
The Chinese follow them and attempt to cross the river at a shallower passage, a ford for example. The water level is not quite dry but low enough for people to cross it, to their waist, for example.
The river is quite wide and it takes a long time (a couple of hours) for the overloaded soldiers to cross in the difficult conditions (overloaded with their armours and equipement, water to their waist, feet stucking in the bottom's mud...)

The Koreans destroy the dam, water levels rise. It takes a while, but by the time the Chinese forces realize what is happening, the troops in the middle have no time to make it to the edges before being submerged. Especially as the narrowness of the ford make any manoeuvre difficult especially once panic starts to kick in.

A relatively small numbers of soldiers actually drown, but the Chinese forces are cut in half, separated by the river, moreover, many of them are exhausted by their ordeal, many abandoned their equipment to save their life, the units' structure has broken down in the chaos of the panic and everybody is demoralised.
The Korean cavalry choose this moment to attack.

Hilarity ensue.
As I said earlier, I consider this part to be fairly realistic. A relatively minor flood to induce some panic etcetera, followed by a charge. But again as I said earlier, in that case, the flood was redundant.

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Old 2nd September 2009, 12:31 AM   #26
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A few other possible scenarios.

Heavy rains on higher ground cause a flash flood at an opportune moment, and victorious commander takes credit for utilizing the flood to turn the tide of battle. History and legend changes his role from knowing the local terrain and taking advantage of knowing that a storm in the distance will cause a flash flood on the plain below to him engineering a flood.

A crude dam may have already existed. Certainly the folks in the area have been diverting rivers and flooding plains to grow rice for a long time. Such dams are designed to be breachable, as the ground needs to be flooded only at certain times. In this scenario, korean troops open existing gates in a low dam and drain rice paddies back into the main channel below, raising it just enough to convert the plain to mud. Legend changes it to troops being washed away, when in reality they were mired in mud.

Nothing of the sort happened at all, and the commander of the defeated forces made something up to make it less his fault. Conversely, the commander of the victorious forces made it up to highlight his strategic genius. Call it something like Caligula's invasion of Britain. (If you can't do something heroic, do SOMETHING, lie about it a lot, and call it heroic until people believe)

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Old 2nd September 2009, 12:51 AM   #27
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Originally Posted by Andrew Wiggin View Post
A few other possible scenarios.

Heavy rains on higher ground cause a flash flood at an opportune moment, and victorious commander takes credit for utilizing the flood to turn the tide of battle. History and legend changes his role from knowing the local terrain and taking advantage of knowing that a storm in the distance will cause a flash flood on the plain below to him engineering a flood.

A crude dam may have already existed. Certainly the folks in the area have been diverting rivers and flooding plains to grow rice for a long time. Such dams are designed to be breachable, as the ground needs to be flooded only at certain times. In this scenario, korean troops open existing gates in a low dam and drain rice paddies back into the main channel below, raising it just enough to convert the plain to mud. Legend changes it to troops being washed away, when in reality they were mired in mud.

Nothing of the sort happened at all, and the commander of the defeated forces made something up to make it less his fault. Conversely, the commander of the victorious forces made it up to highlight his strategic genius. Call it something like Caligula's invasion of Britain. (If you can't do something heroic, do SOMETHING, lie about it a lot, and call it heroic until people believe)

A.
I find these three possibilities believable, moreso than any of the deliberate dam scenarios. Especially the first one, I considered that one before. North Korea is prone to flooding, and a flash flood at the right moment certainly isn't impossible, while a general claiming credit for it is in fact what we'd expect most generals to do.
Knowing the exact date of the battle would help a lot, or the month or just the season...

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Old 2nd September 2009, 01:15 AM   #28
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Interesting... if the cavalry isnt armored lancers, as we think of cavalry of the time period, but mounted archers, they could have stayed outside the muddy ground, and picked off the helpless infantry without them being able to defend themselves - which rather neatly solves the "what happens to cavalry in muddy terrain" problem wed get with lancers.
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Old 2nd September 2009, 02:56 AM   #29
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Originally Posted by Chaos View Post
Interesting... if the cavalry isnt armored lancers, as we think of cavalry of the time period, but mounted archers, they could have stayed outside the muddy ground, and picked off the helpless infantry without them being able to defend themselves - which rather neatly solves the "what happens to cavalry in muddy terrain" problem wed get with lancers.
Cavalry of the area and era was more commonly horse archers.
But horse archers are far from perfect. They're a good skirmishing force, which can wear down a large and more powerful army. But without armored lancers or infantry support, it has but a miniscule chance of destroying another army.

Another problem for horse archers are infantry archers, which typically beat them in range, rate of fire and hit ratio (they present smaller targets, and have a limited ability to dodge).
Around the same time Byzantines wrote their first military manual, which dealt with various tactics. I took the above from that.

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Old 2nd September 2009, 05:57 AM   #30
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Originally Posted by McHrozni View Post
Cavalry of the area and era was more commonly horse archers.
But horse archers are far from perfect. They're a good skirmishing force, which can wear down a large and more powerful army. But without armored lancers or infantry support, it has but a miniscule chance of destroying another army.

Another problem for horse archers are infantry archers, which typically beat them in range, rate of fire and hit ratio (they present smaller targets, and have a limited ability to dodge).
Around the same time Byzantines wrote their first military manual, which dealt with various tactics. I took the above from that.

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They dont have to destroy the army all at once... they inflicted many or most of those casualties on the armys long retreat home.

They dont need support, either, since their enemy is essentially a peasant rabble, and stuck in muddy terrain.

And I doubt they had a problem with infantry archers... archery is something you have to train for to be effective - we, on the other hand, are talking about a bunch of press-ganged peasants. They might have had crossbows, but those have the disadvantage of a much lower rate of fire, possibly a shorter range - and the people who use them have arrows raining on them, which usually tends to unnerve people, especially those who were never all that steady to begin with.
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Old 2nd September 2009, 08:46 AM   #31
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Did they have cross-bows at the time?


Also, as McHrozni mentioned, I got the idea last night that probably the battle-site was in North Korea which would explain the lack of investigation.
One more reason to wait impatiently until li'l Kim kicks the bucket and some more reasonable regime can establish itself in the region.


I like Andrew's idea, the area was under heavy rain which weakened the ground. The sudden release of water was not that big, all thing considered, but was enough to start a mud-slide.

Also, Korean, like most of the region, had a long experience constructing paddy fields.
I do not know if they were using terrace fields as in some place in China, though, but I guess that, by knocking down dikes between such fields upstream, one could convert them into one big shallow artifical lake.
I don't know how long it would take to bring down such a dike, but it does not seem unreasonable to me that placing a continuous line of soldiers on each side of the dike (it would only take about 3500 men for a mile long dike) would allow bringing it down in a matter of minutes as each pair of men would only have to break down roughly one three feet worth of dike.


Also, it does not seem unreasonable that the Chinese army would have been crossing at multiple point at the same times, for example, splitting and crossing at multiple fords at the same times, to regroup after the fact, in order to save time.
In this case, the whipping out of the fords would have cost more lives.
That does not seem unreasonable, especially if their scout had reported that the bulk of the Korean army was several miles upstream (playing in the mud, haha) and hence, unlikely to spring on them in the middle of the crossing. That'd be consistent with the fact that only the Korean cavalry participated in the following engagement.
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Old 2nd September 2009, 09:16 AM   #32
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Originally Posted by McHrozni View Post
None taken No, I don't have anything significant in this regard that the terrain would be vastly different back then. However considering how it is now, it couldn't have been vastly different. The river probably meanders differently, there may be some small lakes placed differently and so on, but great differance would mean apperance/disapperance of hills or cliffsides, for example. That probably didn't happen in a significant degree.
But see, here's the problem. Without a historic description of the specific area, preferably a few of them to compare and contrast, we can't accurately make this statement. As I showed in my visual example, with only 100 years to separate the two images, the landscape had vastly changed, with the "appearance/disappearance of hills [and a] cliff side". You're talking about 1,400 years, in which wind and weather have certainly changed the landscape. Perhaps not dramatically, but enough that we can't remove this aspect from our theories.

We can, of course, discount this, but we just have to be "good historians" and state we're discounting it and the reasons for such (like unavailability of documents to review ).

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I'm not convinced it would be possible to propertly dam it. Does anyone have experience with ancient construction methods, enough to make a rough prediction of how would that be made?
There is the Grand Anicut Dam in India, over 18 centuries old, and still in use.

Herodotus recorded information about the cut-masonry Kosheish Dam on the Nile which built around 2900 BCE, but flooded because there was no spillway. Though that account may be aprocraphyl.

The Sadd el-Kafara Dam still exists though, and was made from cut masonry around 2600 BCE.

There is also the Du Jiang Yan Dam, an earthen dam completed in 251 BCE, is also still in use in China.

But you should keep in mind that each of these dams was intended to be permanent, so the projects were much greater. Damming water is pretty easy (Dam you water! Dam you to hell! ), but maintaining the dam for an extended period is the trick. A temporary earthen dam could have been made of anything around the area: earth, stone, vegetation. A dam intended to be destroyed, would best be made of a timber crib such as this one at Red Ridge, Michigan:



Second to that, an earthen dam, built against a wooden crib of pylons that could be pulled out would also work nicely.

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Considering that would likely be the only bridge across a major river, in an area they campaigned for a while, I find it extremely unlikely that they would be unaware of it.
Agreed, a good general should know his terrain, but a poor or mediocre general might not. We are talking about a guy who lost, according to the reports, some 300,000 men on his campaign against an inferior force. It is not out of the question.

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Well, if there were gentle slopes on one or both sides of the river, this is fairly plausible. This would be one terrain feature that could easily disappear in 1400 years. However if that were the case, the flood would be unnecessary.
Except as a diversionary tactic and a means to divide your enemy. Crushing half an army, already in chaos and disorder is much easier than crushing a full army in the same situation.

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Assuming an earlier scenario of waist-deep water, any troops crossing or already crossed would be unavailable to assist the attacked forces on the other side. A few might be taken out by the flood and such, but the flood would have a very minor impact - and probably a negative one, since the retreating Chinese would have nowhere to run and would only have two options - fight or die.
Or perhaps we have it wrong. It occurs to me that the dam might be downriver of the cross, creating a wider plain of water that had to be crossed by the army. In such a scenario, when the army is half-way through crossing the river, you strike with your cavalry charge. The army is divided, tired from the crossing, some of the men are caught in the river and the rest are on the other side of it, both groups unable to aid those who are being attacked.

Just another scenario that occurred to me, which still used a flood, though not via kinetic action.

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Hm. Do you have a plan on how such a dam would be built and later demolished? I know that just damaging it in an appropriate place would do quite a bit of damage to it, but if the difference in water levels was small, this would be rather gradual..
In both of the temporary dams that I suggested above, a full timber crib or a timber and earth crib, you just attach ropes to the wooden uprights, strap the free end to enough horses, soldiers, and/or slaves, and pull the thing apart. Gravity and the weight of the water will do the rest. You're going to lose a chunk of your workers, but you're a general. Collateral damage can easily be figured into the equation, especially if you win.
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Old 2nd September 2009, 09:17 AM   #33
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Originally Posted by McHrozni View Post
...Extremely wide, but also sufficiently high to be able to more than wet the ankles of the soldiers...
McHrozni
I see you've said this a couple of times. However, as an occasional kayaker and therefore swimmer, I can say it doesn't take much depth of (reasonably fast flowing) water, even just a little above the ankles to make crossing a stony river bed tricky to say the least.

I could see that if you're in a tightly packed group (or even queueing line-ahead) and carrying kit in both hands (therefore unable to steady yourself) then anyone upstream in an adjacent column crossing the river who loses their footing suddenly becomes a bowling ball and you and your comrades the pins. Once you're over, getting back up and regaining composure can become surprisingly difficult.

Your enemy only needs to be in a state where they cannot defend themselves due to other circumstances to be completely at your mercy. Did the Koreans have half-decent archers at this battle?

It takes an embarrassingly small amount of water to create an awful lot of trouble.
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Old 2nd September 2009, 09:23 AM   #34
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Originally Posted by Debaser View Post
Your enemy only needs to be in a state where they cannot defend themselves due to other circumstances to be completely at your mercy. Did the Koreans have half-decent archers at this battle?
According to this Wiki article, yes, they had bows at the time, and that it was "the most important weapon in Korean wars with Chinese dynasties".

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It takes an embarrassingly small amount of water to create an awful lot of trouble.
Indeed, river crossings can be very advantageous to an enemy who catches you at them, regardless of how small.
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Old 2nd September 2009, 09:52 AM   #35
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Originally Posted by RobRoy View Post
But see, here's the problem. Without a historic description of the specific area, preferably a few of them to compare and contrast, we can't accurately make this statement. As I showed in my visual example, with only 100 years to separate the two images, the landscape had vastly changed, with the "appearance/disappearance of hills [and a] cliff side". You're talking about 1,400 years, in which wind and weather have certainly changed the landscape. Perhaps not dramatically, but enough that we can't remove this aspect from our theories.
Well, any change to the area would also have to be meaningful. The most major problem I see is the size of the river - and that probably didn't change by much. The other problem is that it is in a flat land, which makes the dam project more difficult and much larger, but at the same time, any other layout of the land would make a cavalry assault equally more challenging.

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We can, of course, discount this, but we just have to be "good historians" and state we're discounting it and the reasons for such (like unavailability of documents to review ).
OK, that and the fact we can't imagine a meaningful change to terrain (correct me if I'm wrong, of course)



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There is the Grand Anicut Dam in India, over 18 centuries old, and still in use.

Herodotus recorded information about the cut-masonry Kosheish Dam on the Nile which built around 2900 BCE, but flooded because there was no spillway. Though that account may be aprocraphyl.

The Sadd el-Kafara Dam still exists though, and was made from cut masonry around 2600 BCE.

There is also the Du Jiang Yan Dam, an earthen dam completed in 251 BCE, is also still in use in China.
Hm, interesting. The technology to build a dam was therefore present. The question remains however how long the construction would take, and how easy or how difficult it would be to destroy it. A properly constructed wooden dam might be the best choice (have a few bums cut select few timbers with axes would do the trick).

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Agreed, a good general should know his terrain, but a poor or mediocre general might not. We are talking about a guy who lost, according to the reports, some 300,000 men on his campaign against an inferior force. It is not out of the question.
Considering the period, it is very unlikely that there was more than one large bridge across this river, and if there was a major bridge, it would've been on a major trade route.
I find it unlikely to the extreme that this would be unknown to the Chinese, who would be trading across this very bridge.

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Except as a diversionary tactic and a means to divide your enemy. Crushing half an army, already in chaos and disorder is much easier than crushing a full army in the same situation.
Suppose you don't make a flood, what will the troops on the other side do? Cross again to fight you? They're in retreat already, and tired from one crossing.
Diversionary tactic I can agree with.

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Or perhaps we have it wrong. It occurs to me that the dam might be downriver of the cross, creating a wider plain of water that had to be crossed by the army. In such a scenario, when the army is half-way through crossing the river, you strike with your cavalry charge. The army is divided, tired from the crossing, some of the men are caught in the river and the rest are on the other side of it, both groups unable to aid those who are being attacked.
This would work, as the Dutch have demonstrated, but the source(s) mention(s) a sudden flood as a major factor. A dam downstream wouldn't produce that, and since the landscape is fairly flat, the dam would have to be either very close to the battlefield, or positively huge and set up over a long time period.

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In both of the temporary dams that I suggested above, a full timber crib or a timber and earth crib, you just attach ropes to the wooden uprights, strap the free end to enough horses, soldiers, and/or slaves, and pull the thing apart. Gravity and the weight of the water will do the rest. You're going to lose a chunk of your workers, but you're a general. Collateral damage can easily be figured into the equation, especially if you win.
Yeah .. however this almost absolutely requires a relatively narrow valley relatively close to the point of crossing. You can probably see why. It doesn't have to be very deep, however, a few meters would probably do the trick.

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Old 2nd September 2009, 09:56 AM   #36
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Originally Posted by RobRoy View Post
Or perhaps we have it wrong. It occurs to me that the dam might be downriver of the cross, creating a wider plain of water that had to be crossed by the army. In such a scenario, when the army is half-way through crossing the river, you strike with your cavalry charge. The army is divided, tired from the crossing, some of the men are caught in the river and the rest are on the other side of it, both groups unable to aid those who are being attacked.

Just another scenario that occurred to me, which still used a flood, though not via kinetic action.

Well, the article mentions a flood killing many thousand of men, so the idea of constructing a dam in order to create/increase the size of a river, and hence the need for crossing and the tactical advantage it confers, does not really fit the description. But it sure is interesting.


Ok, I have another idea but I need to make a sketch and such, it will take a little while, don't go anywhere...
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Old 2nd September 2009, 09:56 AM   #37
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Originally Posted by Debaser View Post
I see you've said this a couple of times. However, as an occasional kayaker and therefore swimmer, I can say it doesn't take much depth of (reasonably fast flowing) water, even just a little above the ankles to make crossing a stony river bed tricky to say the least.
If the terrain was as the pictures that we have show, it wouldn't be fast flowing or rocky. It would make the crossing slower and trickier, but far from impossible.
It would certainly do far more damage to a charging cavalry.

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I could see that if you're in a tightly packed group (or even queueing line-ahead) and carrying kit in both hands (therefore unable to steady yourself) then anyone upstream in an adjacent column crossing the river who loses their footing suddenly becomes a bowling ball and you and your comrades the pins. Once you're over, getting back up and regaining composure can become surprisingly difficult.
Yes, I don't doubt that some considerable damage could be done, just not on the scale the story says

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Your enemy only needs to be in a state where they cannot defend themselves due to other circumstances to be completely at your mercy. Did the Koreans have half-decent archers at this battle?
Don't know, but I believe the bow was the weapon of choice for Chinese armies for much of the time.

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Old 2nd September 2009, 10:16 AM   #38
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Originally Posted by McHrozni View Post
Well, any change to the area would also have to be meaningful.
Agreed.

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The most major problem I see is the size of the river - and that probably didn't change by much.
Perhaps, but I've stated my reasons for wanting this information. Without it, conjecture along this line is pretty meaningless.

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The other problem is that it is in a flat land, which makes the dam project more difficult and much larger, but at the same time, any other layout of the land would make a cavalry assault equally more challenging.
Flat land actually makes building a dam pretty easy, just depends on what you plan to do with the dam. A permanent dam, yeah, flat land is a silly place to put it. You want natural features that help create a more stable containment for the dam. Temporary, and as a weapon of war, and we just need a whole lot of water to be released quickly and take our enemy by surprise.

If this was going to be my tactic, I would want a V-bottleneck valley that opened out onto a reasonably level plain. The V-bottleneck allows the quick building of a dam that could hold a large capacity of water for quick release, which stuns and shocks my enemy, dividing them, perhaps killing a fair portion, or otherwise incapacitating them. The level plain allows for my cavalry to take advantage of the confusion, lack of united front, etc. and mows them down in a few successive charged.

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OK, that and the fact we can't imagine a meaningful change to terrain (correct me if I'm wrong, of course)
That's correct. All our conjecture could be 100% correct logically, but completely erroneous if there was a meaningful change to the terrain.

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Hm, interesting. The technology to build a dam was therefore present. The question remains however how long the construction would take, and how easy or how difficult it would be to destroy it. A properly constructed wooden dam might be the best choice (have a few bums cut select few timbers with axes would do the trick).
For the kind of impact we're going for, and depending on the terrain, anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. I believe either time schedule falls within the time line.

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Considering the period, it is very unlikely that there was more than one large bridge across this river, and if there was a major bridge, it would've been on a major trade route.
Why? I'm not denying your contention, I just want to understand what you're basing your conclusions on.

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I find it unlikely to the extreme that this would be unknown to the Chinese, who would be trading across this very bridge.
Perhaps, but that depends on the general's knowledge of the area, his use of scouts, locals and extent maps, etc. As I said, if he was a good general, not in contention. If he was not, then problems start to arise. It's a pretty common theme, how an inept general, without doing the proper reconnaissance find himself led into a devastating ambush, and his superior force completely overwhelmed.

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Suppose you don't make a flood, what will the troops on the other side do? Cross again to fight you? They're in retreat already, and tired from one crossing.
Diversionary tactic I can agree with.
Sorry, I'm not certain what the scenario is that you are asking about. Can you be a little more specific?

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This would work, as the Dutch have demonstrated, but the source(s) mention(s) a sudden flood as a major factor. A dam downstream wouldn't produce that, and since the landscape is fairly flat, the dam would have to be either very close to the battlefield, or positively huge and set up over a long time period.
Agreed. It was just a scenario that occurred to me that would fit the major facts, but be a semi-realistic option. All things being equal (which they rarely are), the general knows the terrain, knows the best spots for fording, but suddenly finds a wider river than he had expected. He crosses anyway, for whatever reason, and falls right into his enemy's trap.

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Yeah .. however this almost absolutely requires a relatively narrow valley relatively close to the point of crossing. You can probably see why. It doesn't have to be very deep, however, a few meters would probably do the trick.
Not too close. A sudden rush of enough water would do the trick. I do agree that the optimal impact would occur at a narrow valley close to the ford, but it's not required for the scenario to play out according to the key points of the story.

Originally Posted by Simon39759 View Post
Well, the article mentions a flood killing many thousand of men, so the idea of constructing a dam in order to create/increase the size of a river, and hence the need for crossing and the tactical advantage it confers, does not really fit the description. But it sure is interesting.
Agreed. It was just a scenario that occurred to me which might also fit the major facts.

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Ok, I have another idea but I need to make a sketch and such, it will take a little while, don't go anywhere...
I'm all eyes. This is a very interesting discussion.

Originally Posted by McHrozni View Post
If the terrain was as the pictures that we have show, it wouldn't be fast flowing or rocky. It would make the crossing slower and trickier, but far from impossible.
Well, you don't want an impossible crossing. You only want one that the enemy general thinks he can cross, which you can then use to your advantage during the crossing. Add a little extra water, even if it doesn't kill soldiers, it still divides the army, adds chaos, disorders the troops, and provides you with a golden opportunity to take advantage.

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It would certainly do far more damage to a charging cavalry.
Only if you attack in the river. If you keep your cavalry where they will do the most damage, on flat, reasonably dry ground, then you're golden.

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Yes, I don't doubt that some considerable damage could be done, just not on the scale the story says
Probably not. But then there are other historic instances of superior forces being overwhelmed by inferior forces with catastrophic results, so it's not out of the question. Implausible though it may seem to us.

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Don't know, but I believe the bow was the weapon of choice for Chinese armies for much of the time.
I address Korean archery in this post. We probably crossed posts and so you missed it.
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Old 2nd September 2009, 10:21 AM   #39
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Ok, here is what I have.

This is a structure you can find in Europeans fish ponds. It allows to control the level of water in the pond and to empty it when the time to harvest the pond as come.
I have no idea what the English term for this structure is, I am not even sure there is one, but the French word translates as 'monk' because, or so the story goes, it was invented by monks in their fish ponds during the middle ages. I have no idea if the story is true but it is possible, Monks did have fish ponds and the design would be within reach of medieval people.
I also have no idea if this design would have existed in Asia at the time, but China does have a fish farming industry going back much further than that, so it is not out of the question that they'd have come up with a similar design on their own.







As you can see, a cunning general could have built a dam, inserting these kind of structures at regular interval.
Then, it would have been possible to remove this planks reasonably fast and have the water empty pretty fast.

Once again, I am not claiming that it happened that way, just that it seems conceivable.
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Old 2nd September 2009, 10:29 AM   #40
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Originally Posted by Simon39759 View Post
I also have no idea if this design would have existed in Asia at the time, but China does have a fish farming industry going back much further than that, so it is not out of the question that they'd have come up with a similar design on their own.
I don't know if they had this particular design (it looks like a simple sluice gate to me), but they certainly had irrigation/flood control type dams.

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As you can see, a cunning general could have built a dam, inserting these kind of structures at regular interval.
Then, it would have been possible to remove this planks reasonably fast and have the water empty pretty fast.
Or use a couple guys with axes to destroy the planks.

Quote:
Once again, I am not claiming that it happened that way, just that it seems conceivable.
Yeah, this is definitely a workable solution, and can certainly fall within the realm of possibility along with the other previously described options. Very nice!
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