Emperor Trần Nhân Tông and the War of Defense in 1285


by Prof. LÊ MẠNH THÁT. Translation into English by ĐẠO SINH


Emperor Trần Nhân Tông and the War of Defense in 1285

As it has been said before, it was just in 1279 when Emperor Nhân Tông ascended the throne and the Sung Dynasty was exterminated in China that Kublai Khan gave orders for warships to be built in his plan of invading Đại Việt. His intention seemed to take advantage of the victory his well-trained troops had just gained as an impetus for their campaign to smash our people’s fighting power. From his own experience in the war of 1258, however, Kublai Khan’s preparation of tactics and strategy for this war showed to be much more elaborate. In addition to the north-eastern and south-western armies, he attempted to form the third one south of our country by ordering So Tu to occupy Champa in 1282. In reality, the war proceeded exactly in the strategy he had planned, yet the effect was not so satisfactory as he had expected.

Kublai Khan’s Preparation for the War of 1285

Despite his failure to impose the puppet government headed by Trần Di Ái upon our country, Kublai Khan patiently expected a victory from the battlefield of Champa. Unfortunately, his expectation could not come true as it is noted in Pen Chi of Yuan Shih 13, pp.2b2-3 and 2b9-11, that the defeated army of So Tu had to retreat from Champa and “P’ing Chang A Li Hai Ya of Hu Kwang Hsin Shêng volunteered to reach the seashore to gather beaten troops [fleeing] from Champa.” Obviously, in the long-termed strategy of resistance by combining fighting with negotiation, the Cham people had sunk So Tu’s troops in the ‘swamp’ of a guerilla warfare in their tropical country.

Having received only requests for reinforcement in stead of some expected victory, on the 28th, Đinh Sửu, of the 5th month of Chih Yuan 21 (1284) Kublai Khan stripped Wu Ma Er of his commanding seal due to his failure of supplying So Tu with reinforcements. Then, on the 12th, Mậu Tý, of the 7th month of the same year he ordered his son, T’o Huan, officially to command troops to attack Champa, as recorded in Pen Chi of Yuan Shih 13, p.4a8. Yet, it was merely a pretense of his since the objective of T’o Huan’s invading troops was not Champa, but Đại Việt. Just on the same day, Mậu Tý, by order of Emperor Nhân Tông, the mission of Trung Lương Đại Phu Nguyễn Đạo Học submitted our local offerings to the Yuan king and thereby investigated their situation. Also it was the day when the Yuan king allowed our envoy, Lê Anh, to return home.

In the meantime, a powerful staff of their headquarters was formed by Kublai Khan’s order. In addition to T’o Huan, most of veteran generals of Mongol armed forces, who had acquired military merit in annihilating the Sung, were gathered. Among them were A Li Hai Ya, who had gained victory in Hsiang Yang, Ngoh Chou, P’an Ch’êng, Shêng Kiang, Kiang Ling and many other battlefields in China, and Li Hêng, who had succeeded in the Yai Shan operation, bringing the Sung Dynasty to an end; and several generals and high-ranked officers who had ever cooperated with and received aid from A Li Hai Ya such as Ao Lu Chih, Cheng P’êng Fei, Wu Ma Er, So Tu, P’an Chieh, and so on. Otherwise stated, Kublai Khan had a powerful staff of most talented and veteran officers in his hands.

In the 7th month of Chih Yuan 21 (1284) when T’o Huan’s troops were halted at Ching Hu Chan Ch’êng Hsin Shêng, Emperor Nhân Tông ordered the mission of Nguyễn Đạo Học to meet with him there. Thereafter, the latter ordered Ch’ü Lieh (Külä) and T’a Hai San Li (Taqai Sarïq) to accompany Nguyễn Đạo Học to our country with his letter, blaming and requesting our emperor to provide supplies for Yuan army and receive T’o Huan from the border into our country on their way to attack Champa. Just as T’o Huan moved his troops to Hsin Shan District of Hu Nan, Ch’ü Lieh and T’a Hai San Li left Đại Việt, accompanied by the mission of Trần Đức Quân and Trần Tự Tông who carried the emperor’s letter of refusing T’o Huan’s request for taking the route of our country: “Whether by land or by water, traveling from my country to Champa is not convenient.” Upon receiving the letter, T’o Huan ordered Chao Tzŭ Ch’i to reply to Emperor Nhân Tông, requesting him to open the road and supply provisions. He was, too, informed at the same time that Trần Hưng Đạo had deployed troops to the border.

In An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209, p.5b11, all of these facts are said to have occurred in the 2nd month of Chih Yuan 22 (1285) since, according to Pen Chi of Yuan Shih 13 p.6a5, T’o Huan’s troops marched into our country in the 12th month of Chih Yuan 21. It is more carefully recorded in An Nam Chi Luoc 4, p.53: “On the 21st of the 12th month the army reached the borderland of An Nam.” This is quite in accordance with the account in Ching Shih Ta Tien Tzŭ Lu of Yuan Wen Lei 41, p.27a2-3: “In the 10th month of [Chih Yuan] 21, [our] troops reached Yung Chou. The An Nam [king] ordered Hưng Đạo Vương to dispatch 20,000 men to their posts to halt [our] king’s troops. In the 12th month, they were defeated at the frontier pass Khả Ly.”

Thus, it must be in the 10th month of Chih Yuan 21 (1284) that T’o Huan and his troops reached Yung Chou of Hu Nan. There, A Li Hai Ya ordered Chao Tzŭ Ch’i to write a letter, requesting our emperor to “open the road and prepare supplies to receive Chên Nan Wang”, as recorded in An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209, p.6a5-6. Also in the words of An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209, p.6a6-7, upon reaching Yung Chou of Kwang Hsi, T’o Huan learned that the Đại Việt General Điện Tiền Phạm Hải Nham had deployed troops at Khả Lan, Vi Đại Trợ. When the former’s army reached Szu Ming of Kwang Chou, he sent a letter to Emperor Nhân Tông, repeating the same demands set forth in A Li Hai Ya’s letter. Thereafter, he went on to move his troops into Lộc Châu of our country, that is, Lộc Bình District in what is now LạngSơnProvince.

There, having heard that Emperor Nhân Tông had dispatched troops to the positions at the frontier passes Khâu Ôn and Khâu Cấp Lãnh, T’o Huan divided his troops into two wings. According to An Nam Chí Lược 4 p.53, this took place on the 21st, Giáp Tý, of the 12th month of Giáp Thân (i.e. January 27th, 1285); the west wing commanded by Wan Hu Po Lo Ho Ta Er (Bolqadar) [1] and A Shên (Atsin) advanced down via Khâu Ôn whereas the east wing commanded by San Ta Er Tai (Tatartai) and Wan Hu Li Ping Hsien via Cấp Lãnh.

Even at that time, Emperor Nhân Tông kept on sending a letter to T’o Huan, carried by Thiện Trung Đại Phu Nguyễn Đức Dư and Triều Thỉnh Lang Nguyễn Văn Hàn, demanding his army’s withdrawal with the emperor’s reference to an edict issued by Kublai Khan in 1261: “ordering our [Yuan] troops not to enter your [An Nam] territory,” as recorded in An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209, p.6a9-10. A Li Hai Ya detained Nguyễn Văn Hàn but allowed Nguyễn Đức Dư to return with A Li, who carried a letter from him replying to the emperor’s request for their withdrawal: “the reason we launch the campaign is [to punish] Champa, not An Nam.” Nevertheless, A Li could not approach our court since on his arrival at Cấp Bảo District he encountered our troops commanded by Quản Quân Nguyễn Lộc, and then more troops deployed by Trần Hưng Đạo in Lý Village, Đoản District, and Vạn Kiếp. Being informed of this, A Li Hai Ya ordered I Jun to investigate the situation of our troops to prepare his attack. Shortly thereafter, he was reported by San Ta Er Tai, Liu Ping Hsien and Tsun Yu that they had encountered our troops’ counterattacks at the frontier pass Khả Ly. The fact above is taken from An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209 p.6a3-b2.

The Battle of Nội Bàng

In this battle, Tsun Yu captured our two officers, Quản Quân Phụng Ngự Đỗ Vĩ and Đỗ Hựu, and had them killed later. Then he advanced to Động Bàng where Yuan troops had fought with our troops and killed our general Tần Sâm. Afterwards they moved to BiếnTrúVillage for a halt.

According to ĐVSKTT, on the 26th of the 12th month “the enemy’s forces attacked the frontier passes at Vĩnh Châu, Nội Bàng, Thiết Lược, and Chi Lăng.” Thus, after five days’ advance from Lộc Châu, the west wing of Po Lo Ho Ta Er together with T’o Huan’s great army completely broke through our line of defense, chiefly formed to protect Thăng Long, by crossing our frontier passes in the north down to our plains in the south. According to An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209 p.6b5, to besiege and attack the frontier pass Nội Bàng, T’o Huan’s troops were divided into six directions. In the words of Pen Chi of Yuan Shih 13, p.6a5-6: “That month, Chên Nan Wang’s troops marched into An Nan, killing [their] frontier troops and advancing in six directions. Hưng Đạo Vương of An Nam commanded his troops to counterattack.”

Accordingly, it may be said that this is a great battle, if not a strategically decisive battle. For, on our part, the troops commanded by Quốc Công Tiết Chế Trần Hưng Đạo had suffered a heavy loss with Đại Liêu Ban Đoàn Thai captured alive. Later, as it will be seen below, Emperor Nhân Tông ordered Trần Hưng Đạo to mobilize troops from other Routes, of which troops of princes and Trần Hưng Đạo’s son mounted to nearly 200,000. Further, the fact that Trần Hưng Đạo had withdrawn his troops urgently and suddenly shows that the sudden defeat on the Noi Bang front seemed to be beyond his own planning.

In ĐVSKTT 5, p.45a4-b1, the withdrawal of our troops is described rather graphically with the detail of Tỳ Tướng Yết Kiêu’s waiting for Trần Hưng Đạo at Bãi Tân: “Earlier, Hưng Đạo Vương had two servants called Dã Tượng and Yết Kiêu, who were very well treated by him. When the Yuan troops came, Yết Kiêu posted boats at Bãi Tân whereas Dã Tượng followed Trần Hưng Đạo. When our troops were defeated, all boats were scattered. [Hưng Đạo] Vương was about to retreat along the way in the foothills when Dã Tượng said, ‘if he does not see you yet, surely Yết Kiêu will not move his boats to anywhere else.’ [Hưng Đạo] Vương followed him to Bãi Tân, where remained Yết Kiêu’s boats alone. So pleased, Vương said, ‘It is due to its six strong bones supporting wings that the Great Bird can fly high. Without them, it remains merely an ordinary bird.’ After these words, he had his boats handled away from the enemy’s pursuit. Reaching Vạn Kiếp, he deployed troops to defend Bắc Giang.” This shows clearly that the front of Nội Bàng was broken in an extremely unfavorable situation, even seemingly unexpected not only to the direct commander, Trần Hưng Đạo, but also to Emperor Nhân Tông, the leader and the commander-in-chief of our war of resistance at that time.

This situation may be seen through the fact that Emperor Nhân Tông, being informed of the fighting at Nội Bàng, gave up his breakfast, taking boat all day toward Hải Đông to confer with Trần Hưng Đạo, as recorded in ĐVSKTT: “Then the king was seated in a light boat, traveling to the Route of Hải Đông. It was, then, nearly at twilight but the king had not had his breakfast yet. A common soldier brought a meal with rice of bad quality for him. The king praised him to be loyal, giving him the title of ‘superior rank’ and the position of Tiểu Tư at Hữu Triều Môn commune in Bạch Đằng.” Obviously, the fact that Emperor Nhân Tông gave up his breakfast to hurry to Hải Đông by boat shows that the front there played a very important role in the strategy of defense of the Trần Dynasty at that time.

It may be said that through the fact above Emperor Nhân Tông and Trần Hưng Đạo’s primary plan of fighting seemed to dispatch troops of defense to the positions right on the frontier of our country, a plan quite in accordance with the tactics Lý Thường Kiệt had applied more than 200 years earlier. Indeed, the defeat on the Nội Bàng front required that Emperor Nhân Tông and Trần Hưng Đạo should have a new strategy in place of the old ones in facing the enemy. This must have been the reason why the emperor himself had to confer with Trần Hưng Đạo so urgently in Hải Đông.

What Emperor Nhân Tông and Trần Hưng Đạo discussed in this brief conference is not known today; yet, in the words of ĐVSKTT 5 pp.44b7-45a4, following their discussion “Hưng Đạo Vương was ordered to mobilize troops and militiamen of the Routes in Hải Đông, selecting strong men as volunteers for crossing the sea down to the south. The situation of our army became rather favorable. Hearing of this, our troops gathered from everywhere. The king wrote a poem on his bows:

The former event of Cối Kê you should remember;

In Hoan Ái remain one hundred thousand of troops.

Under Trần Hưng Đạo’s command, Hưng Vũ Vương Nghiễn, Minh Hiến Vương Uất, Hưng Nhượng Vương Tảng, Hưng Trí Vương Hiện concentrated troops from Bằng Hà, Na Sầm, Trà Hương, Yên Sinh, Long Nhã, totally 200.000 men, then moving to Vạn Kiếp to fight against the Yuan army.”

Thus, there really occurred some change in our army’s strategic measures that would then be manifested in Emperor Nhân Tông’s art of leading the war. Today, this measure is generally designated by military theorists as “strategic withdrawal and strategic counterattack.” The urgent conference between Emperor Nhân Tông and Trần Hưng Đạo shortly after our defeat on the front of Nội Bàng points out some brilliant reflection in the military aspect not only of Trần Hưng Đạo but also of Emperor Nhân Tông, who was acting as the commander-in-chief of our armed forces at that time. That Emperor Nhân Tông suffered hunger all day to reach Trần Hưng Đạo’s position for conference shows how perilous the situation of our country was then. Further, it points out how closely and seriously the emperor observed the situation of our army’s fighting so as to resolve on the spot whatsoever problems created by complicated and dangerous changes in various situations. That he mobilized troops from the Routes, the princes and the nobles to Vạn Kiếp was a typical fact. The two lines of verse mentioned above indicated that Emperor Nhân Tông was unceasingly seeking to lend encouragement to Trần Hưng Đạo and other generals.  “The former event of Cối Kê” refers to a historical fact in the old days when Kou Chien, head of the Yüeh state, was defeated and captured by Fou Ts’ai, head of the Wu state, but the former, having suffered a great deal of hardship and humility, eventually rose to gain a victory over the latter. It should be noticed that the defeat on the Nội Bàng front was such a great loss to our army that Emperor-Father Trần Thánh Tông ever asked Trần Quốc Tuấn, the general who was directly commanding our troops on the front, whether our army should surrender in such a situation; and the talented strategist replied: “Your Majesty should first cut my head and then surrender”, as in the words of ĐVSKTT 6 p.11b. The figure ‘200,000 men’, however, shows that the force of our army remained perfectly preserved. With such a strong army, in addition to his unceasing attempt to maintain the officers’ morale in terms of “the former event of Cối Kê”, Emperor Nhân Tông kept on encouraging them through his announcement that one hundred thousand men were being concentrated in Hoan Ái for reinforcement. Indeed, according to An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209 p.6b6, after the battle of Nội Bàng the enemy admitted “Hưng Đạo Vương was commanding more than 1000 warships deployed ten miles far from Vạn Kiếp.”

The Battle of Vạn Kiếp

T’o Huan’s attack on Nội Bàng on the 26th of the 12th month of Giáp Thìn, which is dated the 27th in An Nam Chí Lược, must have lasted for several days. Thus, the year of Giáp Thân was coming to an end; that is to say, the greatest festival of the year was waiting for the whole people of Đại Việt. Yet, all that they were preparing for the longest and most exiting holidays of the year was weapons, provisions and, above all, their unyielding spirit. The battle of Nội Bàng ended and Trần Hưng Đạo retreated into Vạn Kiếp, concentrating troops from the Routes to prepare for the coming battle. ĐVSKTT 5 p.45b2-3 says: “On the 6th of the 1st month of Ất Dậu, i.e. the spring of Thiệu Bảo the Seventh (1285), Wu Ma Er of the Yuan army attacked Vạn Kiếp and Mount Phả Lại. Hưng Đạo Vương of An Nam, who was commanding troops of defense in Vạn Kiếp, fought against him. Wan Hu I Jun was killed at Lưu Thôn.”

According to An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209 p.6b6-7, T’o Huan had built factories for making warships and organized naval troops, who were commanded by Wu Ma Er to launch a major attack on Vạn Kiếp. On their way of advance, they picked Emperor Nhân Tông’s two letters sent to T’o Huan and A Li Hai Ya with respect to his request that they should observe Kublai Khan’s order issued in the year of Chung Tung 2 (1261) and that they had to withdraw their troops. Afterwards, A Li Hai Ya wrote a letter to Emperor Nhân Tông, requesting him to open the road for “the troops of the [Yuan} court to fight Champa.” The letter was carried to Vạn Kiếp by our detained messenger, Nguyễn Văn Hàn, who had just been released by the Yuan army.

Even at that moment A Li Hai Ya went on with his impudent words as recorded in An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209, pp.6b11-7a3: “Leading troops to fight Champa, the [Yuan] court has repeatedly sent letters to you, asking for opening the road and preparing supplies. It is sufficiently surprising that you have opposed the order from the court, letting Hưng Đạo Vương command troops to fight against and cause losses for our army. To let the people of An Nam suffer disasters, it is your country’s fault. Now, the Great Army is crossing your country to fight Champa. His Majesty gives orders for you to think seriously. Your country has long been subject [to the imperial court]; you should think of His Majesty’s great mercy to open the road immediately and advise the people to make their living as before. When our troops pass by, there will not be anything harmful. You should go out receiving Chên Nan Wang, discussing military affairs with him. Otherwise, the Great Army will be quartered and establish their bases in An Nam.”

On the part of Đại Việt, as has been mentioned above, Emperor Nhân Tông and Trần Hưng Đạo ordered troops from the Routes in the northeast such as Hải Đông, Vân Trà, Ba Điểm, and other places, Bàng Hà, Na Sầm, Trà Hương, Yên Sinh, Long Nhãn to be concentrated at Vạn Kiếp and Mount Phả Lại. According to Section “Sơn Xuyên” of An Nam Chí Nguyên 1 p.42, Mount Phả Lại is “situated in Từ Sơn District, facing Bình Than, embraced on the left by the Như Nguyệt River and on the right by the Ô Cách. It is a magnificent landscape of the region.” Concerning Emperor Nhân Tông, he himself commanded the Thánh Dực army of more than 1000 men to help Trần Hưng Đạo counterattack, as recorded in An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209, p.7a3-4.

Thus, according to Pen chi of Yuan Shih, by the festival of Ất Dậu New Year Wu Ma Er had ordered a decisive blow on our base in Vạn Kiếp, where a fierce battle occurred with the death of the Yuan General Wan Hu I Jun at Lưu Thôn. This is in accordance with an account in An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209 p.6b5-6, where it says: “Hưng Đạo Vương fled; [our] mandarins and men pursued him to Vạn kiếp, attacking and destroying [their hold at] the frontier pass.”

The Battle of Bình Than

According to An Nam Chí Lược 4 p.54, on the 9th, Nham Ngo, of the 1st month Emperor Nhân Tông “commanded 100,000 troops in a great battle at Bài Than. Yuan Shuai Wu Ma Er, Na Hai (Naqai), and Tsun Lin Tê destroyed all the boats they had captured before.” Concerning the same day Pen Chi of Yuan Shih 13 p.7a8-9 says: “Wu Ma Er with his troops encountered Hưng Đạo Vương’s troops of An Nam and defeated them”, without mentioning the place. Accordingly, in the fighting at Bài Than commanded by Emperor Nhân Tông there were surely one thousand warships Trần Hưng Đạo had deployed about ten miles from Vạn Kiếp as recorded above by Yuan Shih.

Here, Bài Than is nothing other than Bình Than because in a passage on the Bình Than River An Nam Chí Nguyên 1, pp.46-47, says: “[The river] named Bài Than or Bình Than is in Chí Linh District. It flows from Xương Giang to [its confluence with] the Thị Cầu River, where they incorporate into each other to flow between Mount Chí Linh and Mount Phả Lại, winding so vastly that it is hard to see its border. At the mouth of the Đỗ Mộ River, it is divided into two branches flowing into the sea.” In this quotation, Bài Than is transliterated according to Manuscript B cited by Gaspardone in Kao I on page 47.[2]

The Battle of Thăng Long

Following the battles at Vạn Kiếp, Phả Lại and Bình Than, the enemy went on to attack Vũ Ninh and Đông Ngạn and then advanced down to Gia Lâm. Meanwhile, our troops were compelled to retreat into Thăng Long along the ThiênĐứcRiver, where occurred some small combats. In the words of ĐVSKTT 5 p.45b3-5: “On the 12th day the enemy attacked Gia Lâm, Vũ Ninh, Đông Ngạn. Seeing the two words ‘sát thát’ [3] inscribed on the arms of our troops they had captured, they got so angry that they killed a large number of them. Then they advanced into Đông Bộ Đầu and erected their big flag there. [Our] King wanted to be informed precisely of the enemy’s situation but he did not yet know who could undertake it. Realizing his intention, Chi Hầu Cục Thủ Đỗ Khắc Chung stepped forward, saying: ‘Though humble and untalented, I would like to go.’ The King was very pleased, saying: ‘No one dares to say that among the horses pulling carts of salt there would not be any swift and excellent ones.Then Chung left, taking the letter with him.”

In Yuan Shih 13 p.7a9, the day cited above is dated “Ất Dậu, when An Nam Thế Tử Trần Nhật Huyên commanded more than 1000 warships to counterattack. On the day Bính Tuất, [our army] fought with [An Nam] troops and destroyed them totally. Nhật Huyên ran away. [Our army] marched into his citadel and then went out, quartered north of the Phú Lương River.” In the words of An Nam Chí Lược 54: “On the 13th day, Bính Tuất, Thế Tử held [the position on] the Lô River but soon left because it was broken. Chên Nan Wang’s troops crossed the river, entering the citadel and holding a party there.” The same is recorded in Ching Shih Ta Tien Tzŭ Lu in Yuan Wen Lei 41, p.27a4-56: “Mandarins and troops reached the Phú Lương River. Nhật Huyên himself fought against them. Defeated, he left his citadel for the Thiên Trường Prefecture. Mandarins and troops entered the capital.

In An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209, p.7a4, the battle is very clearly described: “Accompanied by the mandarins of Hsin Shêng, Chên Nan Wang himself reached Đông Ngạn to command troops to fight the [An Nam] troops. [We] killed a large number of men and captured twenty boats. Hưng Đạo Vương was defeated and ran away. Mandarins and troops built a bridge of connected rafts to land on the north bank of the Phú Lương River. There had existed their troops and boats and wood barriers along the river. Seeing [our] mandarins and troops, they fired cannons, shouted loudly and challenged to fight. In the afternoon, Nguyễn Phụng Ngự was ordered to carry a letter to Chên Nan Wang and the official of Hsin Shêng, asking for our great army’s withdrawal. The official of Hsin Shêng wrote a letter of blame and then ordered troops to advance. Nhật Huyên fled out of the capital, but soon ordered Nguyễn Hiệu Nhuệ to come with his letter of excuse and some local gifts, asking for [our] withdrawal. The official of Hsin Shêng sent him a letter, persuading the [An Nan] army to surrender. Then he commanded troops to cross the river and halted near the An Nan capital. The following day, Chên Nan Wang entered their capital. The palaces were deserted; there remained some decrees and some letters from our Hsin Shêng, all being torn into pieces.”

From the account above, we may acquire some significant remarks. First, though it was a great battle on water in which was involved an army of more than 100,000 men, the battle of Bình Than in essence was really of a ‘mobile warfare’, that is, fighting for retreating and attracting the enemy into trap. Accordingly, when T’o Huan ordered his troops to connect rafts to make a bridge across the Thiện Đức River, now known as the Đuống River, on their way toward the Phú Lương River, i.e. the Red River, Emperor Nhân Tông once again ordered to “fire cannons, shout loudly and challenge to fight” when he was personally commanding troops in the battle of Thăng Long.

Secondly, though challenging the enemy to fight, Emperor Nhân Tông kept on establishing some corridor of relationship with the enemy for the purpose of carrying out his tactical intention and fathoming the enemy’s situation. In Yuan Shih, the people having such names as Nguyễn Phụng Ngự and Nguyễn Hiệu Nhuệ are said to have carried Emperor Nhân Tông’s letters to T’o Huan but in reality they are not found in our history books. Instead, in ĐVSKTT 5 only the name Đỗ Khắc Chung is mentioned.

Thirdly, the reason Emperor Nhân Tông could have such an active relationship with the enemy is that he had been capable of maintaining his entire armed forces after the battle of Bình Than. Thereafter, he concentrated all troops in Thăng long to prepare for a strategic retreat into Thiên Trường, where he could defend our people against the enemy’s attack in three directions, that is, the armies commanded by T’o Huan and A Li Hai Ya in the north-east, by Na Su La Ting (Nasir ud Din) in the north-west, and particularly by So Tu in the south.

It was on the 14th of the 1st month of Ất Dậu (1285), when T’o Huan entered our citadel to hold a party with his staff and then retreated to halt north of the Red River, that “So Tu, T’ang Wu Tai (Tangutai) … moved their troops to join with Chên Nan Wang”, as recorded in Pen Chi of Yuan Shih 13, p.7a10-11. T’ang Wu Tai was the general whom T’o Huan, when commanding troops to advance, ordered to go to Champa with the task of telling So Tu to retreat his troops for a concentration of fighting forces, as recorded in An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209, p.5b12-13: “ordering Tso Chêng T’ang Wu Tai to go to Champa by post-horses, informing So Tu of the date of concentrating all the armed forces.” In reality, as it will be seen later, So Tu’s troops could not move to the position of concentration in time; and only the major army commanded by T’o Huan could gather in Thăng Long to suffer the thundering counteroffensives by the troops and militiamen of Đại Việt in the triumphant victories in Chương Dương, Tây Kết, Hàm Tử.

Before the above-mentioned victories of our country over the Yuan army, T’o Huan, in his headquarters in Thăng Long, on the one hand, “ordered Wan Hu Li Ping Hsien and Liu Shih Ying to command troops to open a route from Yung P’ing into An Nam. Along the route within each 30 miles they set up a camp and within each 60 miles a station, where 300 men were regularly posted to hold and patrol. He also ordered Shih Ying to establish posts to handle camps and stations”, as recorded in An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209, p.7b7-9. It was one of their measures to secure the areas occupied by them but frequently harassed by our troops.

On the other hand, also in the words of An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209 p.7b9-10, T’o Huan ordered “Yu Chêng Kuan Ch’ê (Könčäk) to command Wan Hu Mang Ku Tai (Manquadai) and Po Lo Ho Ta Er by land and Li Tso Chêng to command Wu Ma Er Pa Tu (Omar ba’atur) by water” to pursue our troops’ withdrawal and and attack our positions along the Red River and the troops who were holding Thiên Trường south of Thăng Long. Thus, it was on the bank of Thiên Mạc that the first battle broke out.

The Battle of Đà Mạc

Đà Mạc or Thiên Mạc, which was later named Mạn Trù, is a bank of land along the Red River in what is now HưngYênProvince. Khâm Định Việt Sử Thông Giám Cương Mục 6 p.42a3-4 says: “The Thiên Mạc River is the lower Phú Lương at Bank Mạn Trù in Đông Yên District of Hưng Yên Province.” There, our army set up a stronghold commanded by Trần Bình Trọng. According to An Nam Chí Lược 4 p.54, “On the 21st, Nhâm Thìn, [the Yuan troops] swept through the Thiên Hán frontier pass, cutting down General Bảo Nghĩa Hầu.” In reality, the Nhâm Thìn day of the 1st month of Ất Dậu must be the 19th and not the 21st. Certainly the number 19 was mistaken for 21 because they are very easy to be falsely copied. Regarding the name Thiên Hán, obviously the character Hán (漢 ) is the mistaken form of the character Mạc (漠 ) because they are of rather similar forms.

In An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209, p.7b10, the date of the battle is not mentioned but it has an account of the battle and the capture of Kiến Đức Hầu Trần Trọng by the Yuan army. In Ching Shih Ta Tien Tzŭ Lu of Yuan Wen Lei 41, p.27a6-7, the fact Trần Trọng was captured is, too, recorded but dated after the battles of A Lỗ and Thiên Trường and before Emperor Nhân Tông’s retreat to the mouth of Giao Thủy. Among them, the information taken from An Nam Chí Lược is relatively correct because Lê Sực wrote down what he could more or less participate and know.

Trần Trọng, here, must be the national hero Trần Bình Trọng in ĐVSKTT. A single difference is that his title was Bảo Nghĩa Hầu instead of Kiến Đức Hầu as recorded in Chinese accounts. The title Kiến Đức Hầu might have been given to Trần Bình Trọng when he was alive whereas Bảo Nghĩa Hầu was his posthumous title, conferred on him to praise a general’s bravery and consistency in the face of the enemy’s persuasion, which is clearly discussed below in ĐVSKTT. That An Nam Chí Lược 4 p.54 has a different account concerning the fact above from that in Yuan Shih originates from the fact that Lê Sực, who was then working with Chương Hiến Hầu Trần Kiện in Vietnam when Trần Bình Trọng was killed and then given the title, could know very clearly the latter’s change of title.

On the part of Yuan troops, their commander of this battle is nowhere mentioned. Yet, in Vietnamese history books a hero of ours in this battle was clearly recorded. In the words of ĐVSKTT: “Bảo Nghĩa Vương Trần Bình Trọng (who, a descendant of Lê Đại Hành, was the later husband of Princess Thụy Bảo and whose father, an official under Thái Tông’s reign, was given the ‘national surname’ Trần) died on behalf of his fighting against the enemy on the bank of Đà Mạc (namely, Thiên Mạc, present-day Mạn Trù). When captured, he refused eating. When asked by the enemy about our national affairs, he refused answering. Asked ‘Would you like to work as a ‘vương’ [4] in the Northern Land?’, he shouted loudly, ‘I would rather become a demon in the Southern Country than a vương in the Northern Land.’ Thereafter, he was killed.

The fundamental difference is that in ĐVSKTT the battle of Đà Mạc and Trần Bình Trọng’s heroic death are dated the 2nd month of Ất Dậu, that is, after the surrenders of Chương Kiến Hầu Trần Kiện and Lê Sực, whereas according to Lê Sực himself it is the Nhâm Thìn day of the 1st month of Ất Dậu. In this case, Lê Sực’s information appears to be more reliable if it is based on the course of military situation at that time. Further, he was contemporary with Trần Bình Trọng and directly joined in some military activities at that time. Another reason is that it was not really necessary for him to change the date of the Yuan attack on our base at Đà Mạc.

Finally, as it has been said before, that Trần Bình Trọng’s death occurred a little before Lê Sực’s surrender, approximately more or less than a month, surely had a great impact on the latter. Indeed, according to Khâm Định Việt Sử Thông Giám Cương Mục 7 p.36b2, on hearing of Trần Bình Trọng’s death Emperor Nhân Tông cried so sorrowfully. This points out that the death of Trần Bình Trọng exerted a strong impact on the leading group of our country at that time. The title Bảo Nghĩa Hầu might have been conferred by Emperor Nhân Tông for the purpose of praising the unyielding spirit of a hero in a period when the emperor realized that there began to appear around him those who could not maintain some mutual affection between king and subjects, some loyalty to king and nation so that they might be ready to defect to the enemy at any time.

Moreover, concerning the battle of Đà Mạc what is mentioned in ĐVSKTT was chiefly cited from Đại Việt Sử Ký Tục Biên of Phan Phu Tiên, who could not have such favorable conditions as other historians when he was writing his own book. For that was the time when our country was dominated by the Ming for nearly twenty years and underwent many intense wars of liberation led by our patriots such as Trần Trùng Quang, Nguyễn Biểu, Phạm Ngọc, Lê Lợi. Most of historical materials, therefore, must have been confiscated or destroyed by the enemy, especially those recorded by Quốc Sử Quán of the Trần Dynasty, which we, today, cannot know exactly whether to have been hidden according to Hồ Quý Ly’s plan or not. The most typical example is that the two wars of 1285 and 1288 were really the great wars of defense but they are described very plainly in ĐVSKTT, let alone some points to be found completely false. For that reason it might not be surprising for readers at all to face the above-mentioned differences.

In summary, the battle of Đà Mạc was not actually great. Yet, through it we can see not only the heroic, unyielding character of the commander Trần Bình Trọng but also our people’s resolution of defeating the enemy in a most difficult period of our country. It was due to such courageous and strenuous people that the later victories in the battles of Hàm Tử, Chương Dương, Tây Kết, etc. could be gained.

The battle of A Lỗ

According to An Nam Chí Lược 4 p.54, subsequent to the battle of Đà Mạc, in which Kiến Đức Hầu Trần Trọng was captured, “Thế Tử withdrew his troops to defend the frontier pass Hải Thị, ordering to set up poles for building a dam of defense on the west bank. Mandarins and troops stormed them with intersecting arrows shot from both above and below; they were broken down completely.” Ching Shih Ta Tien Tzŭ Lu in Yuan Wen Lei 41, p.27a6, says: “[Our] Great Army pursued Nhật Huyên on the rivers of A Lỗ and Đức Cương.” Based on these two reports, the names Hải Thị and A Lỗ obviously refer to the same place. Particularly in the words of An Nan Chih Yuan 1 p.47: “The Hải Triều River in Khoái Châu is a tributary of the Hà Lỗ River; its upper stream is connected with the Ngọc Châu River.” Here, Hà Lỗ is no doubt the A Lỗ River just mentioned in Ching Shih Ta Tien Tzŭ Lu. Concerning Khoái Châu, it was located in present-day Hưng Yên Province. And Đà Mạc, i.e. Thiên Mạc, is said in Khâm Định Việt Sử Thông Giám Cương Mục 6, p.42a3-4, to be situated on the lower Red River in HưngYênProvince. Thus, the two bases of Đà Mạc and A Lỗ were close to each other. This might be the group of bases established for defending Thiên Trường.

With the detail “intersecting arrows shot from both above and below”, it is evident that the enemy’s two-pronged attack, on land and on water, commanded by K’uan Ch’ê and Li Hêng was aimed at pursuing the great army of Emperor Nhân Tông and storming into our base at A Lỗ after occupying Đà Mạc. Once more, it was a battle that caused great loss for the enemy and drew them into the trap planned beforehand in our army’s tactics.

The Battle of Đại Hoàng

According to An Nam Chí Lược 4 p.54, following their victory at A Lỗ, “on the 3rd, Đinh Tỵ, of the 2nd month, Chên Nan Wang broke Thế Tử’s troops on the Đại Hoàng River.” It was the first time T’o Huan appeared in the area near Thiên Trường. The Đại Hoàng River, according to An Nam Chí Nguyên 1 p.42, is “located in Lý Nhân Prefecture, where its upper stream is connected with the Lô River, its lower stream with the GiaoThủy or Phụng Hóa Prefecture.” In Khâm Định Việt Sử Thông Giám Cương Mục, a note on “Hoàng Giang” says: “The Hoàng River is in Nam Xương District, its upper stream connected with the Thiên Mạc River, its lower stream with the Giao Thủy River.” Thus, due to its connection with Thiên Mạc, Đại Hoàng or Hoàng Giang is one in a series of positions south of Thăng Long established to defend Thiên Trường.

The battle that occurred there must have been extremely intense; for T’o Huan himself moved his great army down from Thăng Long to pursue our troops, who had also been concentrated at Đại Hoàng and commanded not only by Emperor Nhân Tông but also by other generals such as Trần Hưng Đạo, Trần Quang Khải. On the part of our army, however, it was not really a counteroffensive but an enemy-exhausting combat for the purpose of keeping our troops’ withdrawal safe.

The Military Situation in Thăng Long after Our Army’s Withdrawal

The battles of A Lỗ and Đại Hoàng are not mentioned in ĐVSKTT, but concerning the battle of  Đà Mạc ĐVSKTT 5 p.47a5-6 says: “The enemy’s forces were so violent that the two kings [5] had to retreat into Tam Trĩ Nguyên in a small ship, ordering to drive it to Ngọc Sơn to deceive the enemy.” In reality, our troops in that situation were not so demoralized and the two kings not so isolated that they had to have such seemingly frightened actions. Yuan Shih 13 p.8b8-10 says: “On the Bính Tý day of the 3rd month, Hu Nan Chan Ch’êng Hsin Shêng requested for more men. Then, Trần Nhật Huyên had fled to Thiên Trường and Trường Yên, ordering his troops to be concentrated again. Hưng Đạo Vương gathered more than one thousand warships at Vạn Kiếp whereas Nguyễn Lộc’s troops were deployed at Vĩnh Bình. In the meantime, due to the long march of fighting for a long time, our mandarins and troops, who were like being “loosely hung” between them, had to ask for more men since the troops of So Tu and T’ang Wu Tai could not come in time. The reinforcement, by order of King, had to move by land since it would not be safe to move by water.”

Accordingly, after Emperor Nhân Tông withdrew from Thăng Long and ordered troops to be concentrated at Thiên Trường and Trường Yên, the enemy fell into a very difficult situation. They themselves professed that they were being loosely hung in a thick net with which the troops of Đại Việt would cover them at any time. In fact, the Đại Việt army was developing their strategy of besieging and destroying these far-marching troops from three directions. The north wing was commanded by General Nguyễn Lộc and had great contributions to a battle that could break the hearts of those who were attempting to ‘rob’ and ‘sell’ our country as it will be seen below. The east wing was composed of warships deployed by Trần Hưng Đạo himself at Vạn Kiếp to stop the enemy’s eastward retreat. The third wing, consisting of the entire armed forces, was concentrated at Thiên Trường and Trường Yên, now known as Nam Định and Ninh Bình respectively, and commanded directly by Emperor Nhân Tông and his emperor-father Thánh Tông together with two famous generals, Trần Quang Khải and Trần Nhật Duật. It was the major front with complicated occurrences on our part as well as on the enemy’s.

Trần Kiện, Trần Tú Viên, and Trần Văn Lộng Surrendering

On the enemy’s part, So Tu was urgently withdrawing his troops from Champa to the north by the order of T’o Huan transmitted by T’ang Wu Tai. On their way of retreat, there would be fierce combats with our troops as it will be seen below. On our part, subsequent to the battles and then withdrawals from Thăng Long and other bases at Đà Mạc, A Lỗ and Đại Hoàng, some of the political and military leaders of Đại Việt at that time began to show extremely puzzled, seemingly losing their confidence in the nation’s potential strength and the brilliant leadership of Emperor Nhân Tông together with Emperor-Father Thánh Tông and such generals as Trần Hưng Đạo, Trần Quang Khải. Among those who sought to connect with the enemy for their surrender, the earliest traitor was Trần Kiện with his accomplices. ĐVSKTT 5 p.46b5-7 says: “On the 1st, Giáp Thìn, of the 2nd month [of Ất Dậu], Tính Quốc Đại Vương Quốc Khang’s elder son, Chương Hiến Hầu named Kiệt, and Lê Sực took their families to surrender the Yuan army. By So Tu’s order, they were brought to Yen Ching. At Camp Ma Lục, they were stopped and attacked by Nguyễn Thế Lộc and Nguyễn Lĩnh, the natives of Lạng Giang. Kiện was shot dead by a servant of Hưng Đạo Vương’s, Nguyễn Địa Lô. Lê Sực escaped in the night, having Kiện’s corpse carried on a horse. After riding about ten miles, he reached Khâu Ôn and had Kiện buried there.”

The fact is more clearly described in An Nam Chí Lược 4, p.54: “Thế Tử ordered his younger brother, Chiêu Văn Vương Trần Duật and Trịnh Đình Toàn to command troops in Nghệ An. Being defeated, they all ran away. In such an urgent situation, Thế Tử ordered his brother’s son, Chương Hiến Hầu Trần Kiện, to command the battlefield in Thanh Hóa. After long resistance, due to their weakness and lack of reinforcement, Chương Hiến and Sực surrendered.” Also in An Nam Chí Lược 13, pp.131-132: “That winter (1284), Chên Nan Wang’s great army marched into the [An Nam] country, defeating Thế Tử. Yu Chêng So Tu, advancing from Champa, attacked them in the rear. Extremely puzzled, Thế Tử had no other way than calling for Trần Kiện and dispatching troops to him to fight against So Tu. Seeing that the troops were weak and there were no reinforcement, and further, without any information of whether Thế Tử was alive or not, Kiện sent for Sực, saying, Due to Thế Tử’s refusal of attending the audience, the war broke out. In the face of danger, he is still not awakened. He would be pleased to see our country lost and our houses broken, wouldn’t he?” In the 1st month of the year that followed (1285), Kiện together with Sực’s group of about some ten thousand people surrendered, handing in their weapons to Chên Nan Wang.”

Thus, Trần Kiện’s surrender was a very complicated event. For it was the first time when a descendant of the royal family, who was in charge of a great army on an important front in Thanh Hóa, surrendered the enemy. If it was not promptly resolved, such a fact might have a highly perilous impact, causing the collapse of the south front. As soon as he retreated from Thăng long, Emperor Nhân Tông realized the importance of this front. Right after the 15th of the 1st month of Ất Dậu (1285), therefore, he urgently ordered Chiêu Văn Vương Trần Nhật Duật to hold it.

According to An Nam Chí Lược 4 p.54 and Ching Shih Ta Tien Tzŭ Lu of Yuan Wen Lei 41 p.27a5-6, by the end of the 1st month “Ta Wang Chiao Ch’i, Yu Chêng So Tu, Tso Chêng T’ang Wu Tai, and Shan Chêng Hei Ti, who just retreated from Champa, penetrated into Bố Chính Prefecture.” Thereafter, So Tu went on to advance to Nghệ An. Trần Nhật Duật’s troops had to retreat because he could not resist them. ĐVSKTT 5 p.46b4-5, therefore, says: “On the 26th, Hưng Đạo Vương asked [the King] for allowing Thượng Tướng Thái Sư Trần Quang Khải to halt Yuan Shuai So Tu in Nghệ An.” It points out that shortly after Trần Nhật Duật urgently reported to our supreme headquarters on his failure to resist the enemy’s forces, Emperor Nhân Tông appointed Trần Quang Khải to assist him. It was in this period that Trần Kiện was given the command of troops in Thanh Hóa, where “Kiện led Sực’s group of ten thousand men with weapons to surrender Chên Nan Wang” according to An Nam Chí Lược 13 p.132.

The Battle of Phú Tân

Also in An Nam Chí Lược 4, p.54, on the day that followed, i.e. the 2nd, Ất Tỵ, of the 2nd month of Ất Dậu (1285), “Chiao Ch’i commanded the cavalry to cross the gate of Vệ Bố, liquidating troops of the Trần family and killing some of their officers, that is, Đinh Xa and Nguyễn Tất Thống.” Then, also according to An Nam Chí Lược 3 p.54, on the 3rd day when T’o Huan was attacking our base at Đại Hoàng and Emperor Nhân Tông was retreating into Thiên Trường, Trần Tú Viên and Trần Văn Lộng surrendered to the Yuan. Four days later, that is, the 6th of the 2nd month, as recorded in An Nam Chí Lược 4, p.54: “on the 6th day, Kỷ Dậu, Chiao Ch’i led Chang Hsien to attack the troops of Thế Tử’s brother Trần Khải at the Phú Tân ferry, cutting off a thousand [men’s] heads. [Other troops in] Thanh Hóa, Nghệ An surrendered.” This was the time when So Tu’s troops could be united with T’o Huan’s as in the words of An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209 p.7b4-7: “T’ang Wu Tai together with So Tu’s troops from Champa met with [T’o Huan’s] great army. Since they marched into Đại Việt, they fought in seven battles, great and small, occupying more than two thousand miles of land, four palaces of the [An Nam] king. Earlier they had defeated the troops of Chiêu Minh Vương. Chiêu Hiếu Vương and Đại Liêu Hộ were killed. Chiêu Minh Vương ran away, having no courage to appear again. In addition, they captured Trần Thượng Thư, and the son-in-law of Lương Phụng Ngự of Giao Chỉ together with Triệu Mạnh Tín, Diệp Lang Tướng and more than four hundred descendants of the Sung family-in-exile in Nghệ An, Diễn Châu, Thanh Hóa, Trường Yên.”

Accordingly, Trần Kiện had led Chiao Ch’i to attack the Phú Tân base commanded by Thượng Tướng Trần Quang Khải with his son, Văn Túc Vương Đạo Tải, and his nephew, Tả Thiên Vương Đức Việp. Before Trần Quang Khải retreated from the base, Chiêu Hiếu Vương and Đại Liêu Hộ were killed.

Thus, the fact that Trần Kiện surrendered to the enemy had a great impact on our army. On the southern front such famous generals as Trần Quang Khải, Trần Nhật Duật gradually withdrew from Thanh Hóa and Nghệ Tĩnh toward Thiên Trường. After the battle of Đại Hoàng on the 3rd of the 2nd month of Ất Dậu (1285) and the battle of Phú Tân on the 6th, Emperor Nhân Tông together with Trần Hưng Đạo and Trần Quang Khải launched a strategic withdrawal. Before his declaration of this withdrawal as a postponement of military actions, Emperor Nhân Tông ordered Trung Hiếu Hầu Trần Dương and Nguyễn Nhuệ to negotiate with T’o Huan and, at the same time, ordered his servant, Đào Kiên, to offer Princess An Tư to Chên Nan Wang for the purpose of “relieving the country’s disaster.” Thereby, T’o Huan ordered Ch’ien Hu Ai to persuade Emperor Nhân Tông to attend the negotiation but the latter refused, as recorded in An Nam Chí Lược 4, p.54. In ĐVSKTT 5, p.47a1, the fact of offering Princess An Tư is mentioned but dated before the battle of Đà Mạc.

The Strategic Retreat into Thanh Hóa

Thus, after the battles of Đại Hoàng and Phú Tân the major armed forces of Đại Việt, besides the units posted in regional stations, were first concentrated in Thiên Trường and then withdrawn strategically at the river-mouth of Giao Thủy, as recorded in An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209 p.7b10-11. Also it is said in Yuan Shih that the Yuan did not know where our army moved. Then on page 7b11-12, it says: “Some of Tông’s relatives such as Văn Nghĩa Hầu with his father Vũ Đạo Hầu, his son Minh Trí Hầu and Seng Shan Chêng, a mandarin of the Sung-in-exile, Tô Thiếu Bảo’s son named Tô Bảo Chương, and Trần Thượng Thư’s son named Trần Đình Tôn all surrendered.” Thus, the fact that Văn Nghĩa Hầu, i.e. Trần Tú Viên, defected to the enemy occurred on the 3rd of the 3rd month of Ất Dậu (1285) as recorded above by An Nam Chí Lược 4 p.54.

According to Yuan Shih 209 pp.7b13-8a3, it was these traitors that supplied information for T’o Huan: “Reaching the An Bang estuary, Nhật Huyên gave up his ship, oars, armor, and cane to race into the mountains. Mandarins and troops captured ten thousand ships, the good ones of which were used, the remaining burned. Then, after three days’ pursuit on land, our army captured alive some men, saying that the emperor-father [i.e. Thánh Tông] and Thế Tử had only four ships left, Hưng Đạo Vương and his son three ships, Thái Sư [Trần Nhật Duật] eighty ships, all moved to Thanh Hóa. Wu Ma Er Pa Tu commanded 1300 men and 60 ships to help So Tu pursue Thái Sư’s troops.” Thus, this is obviously a withdrawal on a grand scale, a strategic one carried out by Emperor Nhân Tông, his emperor-father, Trần Hưng Đạo and Trần Quang Khải.

When did the withdrawal take place then? An Nam Chí Lược 4 p.54 says: “On the 9th, Nhâm Ngọ, of the 3rd month, on a sea patrol with naval troops in Tam Trĩ, Chiao Ch’i and T’ang Wu Tai nearly captured Thế Tử.” In the words of ĐVSKTT 5 p.47a5-6, however, the withdrawal of Đại Việt troops into Tam Trĩ (i.e. the Ba Chẻ Mountains in Quảng Ninh) took place toward the end of the 2nd month. Also according to ĐVSKTT 5 p.47b4-5, on the 1st, Giáp Tuất, of the 3rd month “the two kings left their ships and walked to Thủy Chú. There, they took ships along the Nam Triệu River (i.e. Thủy Đường District), then crossed the Đại Bàng sea to Thanh Hóa.” Thus, the withdrawal certainly occurred before the 9th of the 3rd month (or rather, the 10th day, Nhâm Ngọ) and after the battle of Phú Tân on the 6th of the same month.

Obviously, this strategic withdrawal was planned to avoid the two-pronged thrust by T’o Huan’s troops from the north and by So Tu’s troops which were penetrating into Thiên Trường and Trường Yên from the south. Thus, the great armies of T’o Huan and So Tu had been concentrated in the plains of north Vietnam whereas our major forces were quartered south of Thanh Hóa, where Emperor Nhân Tông, Emperor-Father Thánh Tông and generals Trần Hưng Đạo, Trần Quang Khải, Trần Nhật Duật, and so on would launch a decisive counterattack to liberate the Thăng Long capital and the whole country from the enemy’s occupation.

Trần Ích Tắc Surrendering to the Yuan

According to An Nam Chí Lược 4 p.54, within the first ten days of the 3rd month of Ất Dậu when Emperor Nhân Tông and his headquarters were carrying on the strategic withdrawal mentioned above, “Chiêu Quốc Vương Trần Ích Tắc and his group surrendered to the Yuan on the 15th, Mậu Tý.” In ĐVSKTT 5 p.47b5-7, the fact is dated later than the 1st of the 3rd month: “Chiêu Quốc Vương Ích Tắc together with Phạm Cự Địa, Lê Diễn, Trịnh Long led their families to surrender to the Yuan.” Later, Trần Ích Tắc had to suffer the tragic fate of a traitor, living hopelessly and, eventually, ending his life in foreign soil, leaving a dirty name in our history books forever. Meanwhile, our war of defense was reaching the decisive moments and a glorious conclusion was waiting for well-known and unknown heroes who were sacrificing themselves for their beloved Fatherland.

Đại Việt Army’s Counteroffensives: the Victory at A Lỗ

After his strategic retreat into Thanh Hóa, Emperor Nhân Tông must have assembled all the troops to prepare for a great counterattack.  In Chinese historical accounts nothing is written about the remaining twenty days of the same month, except that the traitors, Chương Hiến Hầu, Minh Thành Hầu, Nghĩa Quốc Hầu, etc. had been taken to China. ĐVSKTT 5 p.48a7-8 mentions a remark by Emperor Nhân Tông on So Tu’s troops: “Having moved so far for years, the enemy must be exhausted; further, it is so hard for them to transport supplies for miles. In our plan of taking advantage of ‘relief’ to fight against ‘anxiety’, if we can demoralize them in advance, we can surely liquidate them.” Emperor Nhân Tông’s remark might have been set forth in a summit of military strategists in Thanh Hóa at that time. In any case, it was the precious time for our army to prepare urgently for the counterattack.

Concerning our counterattack, An Nam Chí Lược 4 p.54 records only one sentence: “In the summer, i.e. the 4th month, due to [our troops’] negligence, An Nam [troops] reoccupied La Thành.” It is also generally mentioned in An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209 p.8a7-9: “The generals were called to discuss the Giao’s counteroffensives. Although our mandarins and troops had defeated them many times, they collected more and more troops. Outrunning their supplies, mandarins and troops suffered hardships, many of them being killed in fighting. Troops and horses of the Mongols could not perform their talent, too. Therefore, they had to give up the [An Nam] capital, crossing the river toward the north side to discuss the plan of withdrawal.”

In the words of Ching Shih Ta Tien Tzŭ Lu in Yuan Wen Lei 41, p.27a8-9: “In the 4th month, all of Giao Chi troops pushed on. Their [general] Hưng Đạo Vương attacked Wan Hu Liu Shih Ying at A Lỗ, Trung Thành Vương attacked Ch’ien Hu Ma Jung in Giang Khẩu. They were killed and retreated. Then, their army and naval forces besieged [our] command post thickly. A great number of them were killed, but their reinforcements became more and more crowded. Though having attempted to fight intensely all day, mandarins and troops, due to lack of weapons, had to give up their capital, crossing the river….”

It is then evidently clear that in the 4th month the first attack of our army commanded by Trần Hưng Đạo was focused on the base of A Lỗ, which our troops had left behind on the line of defense at Thiên Trường. The counterattack was successful and the enemy’s general, Liu Shih Ying, had to abandon the base. It may be said that this was the first victory of Đại Việt’s army and people after a series of battles at A Lỗ, Đại Hoàng and Phú Tân in our tactics of retreating and discouraging the enemy simultaneously. It is surprising enough that the victory has not been recorded in our history books.

The First Battle of Tây Kết and the Victory at Hàm Tử

According to ĐVSKTT 5 p.48a8-b6, “In the summer, the 4th month, our King ordered Chiêu Thành Vương (unnamed), Hoài Văn Hầu Quốc Toản, General Nguyễn Khoái to lead troops to stop the enemy in Tây Kết. The court’s army fought with the Yuan troops in Hàm Tử Quan. All the troops were concentrated there. In Chiêu Văn Vương Nhật Duật’s army were some Sung men dressed in Sung clothes, using bows and arrows. The emperor-father fearing that they might be mistaken for the enemy’s troops ordered a servant to tell our troops that ‘They are the Mongol troops of Chiêu Văn [Vương]. Be careful [not to mistake them for the enemy].’ For the Sung men and the Yuan troops had rather similar speech and clothes. Seeing them, the Yuan were frightened, saying, ‘They are assisted by the Sung men’ and then ran away toward the north. Earlier, when the Sung was exterminated [in China], some Sung men turned to our court. They were received into Trần Nhật Duật’s army, in which Chao Chung was appointed to be an officer. Therefore, Nhật Duật was the general who gained most merit in our people’s victory over the Yuan enemy.

Thus, subsequent to the victory at A Lỗ, under the command of Chiêu Thành Vương, Hoài Văn Hầu Quốc Toản, Nguyễn Khoái and Trần Nhật Duật our troops proceeded to penetrate into Tây Kết and Hàm Tử Quan in the 4th month. These bases were established close to each other in the area of Châu Giang District of present-day Hưng Yên Province; particularly, if Tây Kết was the opposite village of Đông Kết in Đông Bình commune of Châu Giang District, the former was obviously situated right in the middle of the Đà Mạc base ever commanded by the national hero Trần Bình Trọng. For the Đông Kết village is now only three kilometers far from the Red River, that is, Bank Đà Mạc.

Accordingly, the counterattack in the 4th month of Ất Dậu (1285) was aimed at reoccupying the military bases that were first founded by our army and then occupied by the enemy two months earlier, and using them as strong-points for liberating the Thăng Long capital.

The Victory at Chương Dương

Like the battle of Hàm Tử, that of Chương Dương is not mentioned in Chinese history books as it was a great loss for the Yuan. In ĐVSKTT 5, p.47b, it is described as follows: “On the 3rd of the 5th month, the two kings were launching a violent thrust on the enemy in Trường Yên, cutting off a lot of their heads and ears. On the 7th, [they were] informed that So Tu moved his troops there from Thanh Hóa. On the 10th, a man of ours escaping from the enemy’s camp ran to the Imperial Park, reporting that Generals Trần Quang Khải, Trần Quốc Toản, Trần Thông, Nguyễn Khả Lạp and his brother, Nguyễn Truyền were commanding troops from the Routes to fight the enemy in the palaces. The enemy was completely defeated; T’o Huan and A Lo crossed the Lô River.”

Thus, according to ĐVSKTT it is not until the 10th of the 5th month of Ất Dậu (1285) that Emperor Nhân Tông and his father, who were commanding the attack on Trường Yên, were informed of the victory at Chương Dương by a soldier of ours escaping from the enemy’s hands. The situation of war might have been very urgent at that time. For Chương Dương was a base on the front line not very far from the Thăng Long Capital, i.e. Chương Dương Commune of Thường Tín District in present-day Hà Tây Province. Being a line of defending their command post in Thăng Long, it might be the concentrating place of a geat number of enemy’s troops. After occupying Chương Dương, therefore, our troops proceeded to drive the enemy toward their headquarters in Thăng Long, where a fierce battle, as it will be seen, occurred with great losses for both sides.

As has been mentioned above, Emperor Nhân Tông was informed of the victory at Chương Dương on the 10th of the 5th month. Nevertheless, it might have come earlier in the 4th month since in both An Nam Chí Lược 4, p.54 and Ching Shih Ta Tien Tzŭ Lu of Yuan Wen Lei 41 p.27a8-9 it is said that our troops attacked and reoccupied Thăng Long in that month. The significance of this victory was appreciated and it made a strong impression on our military strategists, just as what the talented general, Trần Quang Khải, remarked later:

Taking away the enemy’s spears in Chương Dương,

Capturing the Hồ[6] troops in Hàm Tử.

The Liberation of Thăng Long

Today, Chương Dương commune is located on the Red River, approximately twenty kilometers south of Hà Nội Capital. So was it in the old days. After forcing the enemy to retreat out of Chương Dương, therefore, our troops resolved to pursue them, developing our victory into a campaign to liberate the Thăng Long capital, which had been occupied three months earlier. Such a historical fact, however, was not described in detail in ĐVSKTT. The authors of Khâm Định Việt Sử Thông Giám Cương Mục (7 p.41a5-6) showed regretful that such a great fact had not been clearly recorded: “the victory over the enemy in Chương Dương to retake the imperial capital was the greatest military success at that time. [Unfortunately,] the earlier history books did not record it clearly.”

By synthesizing various historical materials, particularly those of the Chinese source, however, we can know that it was a great battle in which both sides suffered great losses. On the part of our army, besides the south army commanded by Emperor Nhân Tông and his father advancing from Thanh Hóa to liberate Trường Yên and Thiên Trường, which were being occupied by Chiao Ch’i and T’ang Wu Tai respectively, our major armed forces were totally concentrated near the Thăng Long capital and then divided into two wings. The first wing commanded by the generals Trần Quang Khải, Trần Quốc Toản, Trần Thông, Nguyễn Khắc Lạp and Nguyễn Truyền was urgently pursuing the enemy on their way toward Thăng Long. The second wing was commanded by Hưng Đạo Vương Trần Quốc Tuấn and his elder brother, Hưng Ninh Vương Trần Quốc Tung, i.e. Tuệ Trung Thượng Sỹ. The latter wing is not often mentioned in our history books and by researchers today. In An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209, p.8a7-10, however, it is very clearly recorded: “Our generals were assembled to discuss the Giaos’ counteroffensive. Although they were defeated many times, they gathered more and more troops. Without sufficient supplies, mandarins and troops suffered hardships and many of them were killed. Troops and horses of the Mongols could not manifest their talent, too. Eventually, they had to abandon the [An Nam] capital, crossing the river toward the north side to discuss the plan of retreat into Szu Ming. Chên Nan Wang agreed to withdraw troops. That day, Liu Shih Ying fought fiercely with more than twenty thousand men of Hưng Đạo Vương and Hưng Ninh Vương.”

Obviously, it was when the enemy decided to withdraw from Thăng Long that the brothers, Trần Quốc Tuấn and Trần Quốc Tung, commanded more than twenty thousand men to fight with the enemy’s general Liu Shih Ying, who had been driven out of the base of A Lỗ by Trần Hưng Đạo in the first victory of our general counteroffensive. At that time, Liu Shih Ying was appointed by T’o Huan to defend the rear of their withdrawal so that their troops could have time to retreat out of Thăng Long safely.

In reality, the liberation of Thăng Long was a great campaign. The descriptions in Ching Shih Ta Tien Tzŭ Lu in Yuan Wen Lei 41 p.27a9-b1 are quite in accordance with what the enemy’s leaders discussed before withdrawing out of Thăng Long: “In their attack on Ch’ien Hu Ma Jung at Giang Khẩu, Trung Thành Vương’s troops were partly killed and retreated. Yet, their army and naval forces proceeded to besiege [our] command post thickly. Many of them were killed, but their reinforcements became more and more crowded. Though having attempted to fight extremely hard all day, mandarins and troops, due to lack of weapons, had to retreat out of their citadel to make camps beyond the river; thereafter, they were ordered to withdraw.”

Thus, the campaign to liberate Thăng Long in which our major forces were mostly mobilized and commanded by such most gifted generals as Trần Hưng Đạo, Trần Quốc Tung, Trần Quang Khải, and so on proceeded so fiercely and gloriously. With our thrusts from many different directions, the enemy was surrounded by many rings of our troops in some battles we can know today such as the battle of Giang Khẩu, i.e. Hàng Buồm Street in present-day Hà Nội, where Trung Thành Vương defeated Ch’ien Hu Ma Jung; particularly the fierce battle of Trần Hưng Đạo and Trần Quốc Tung’s troops with Liu Shih Ying’s.

As has been said above, the campaign must have started in the 4th month of Ất Dậu (1285). According to An Nam Chí Lược 4 p.54, however, up to the 5th of the 5th month Chiao Ch’i’s troops had fought with our troops in the capital before they crossed the river to meet with T’o Huan and finally withdrew with him on the 6th of the 5th month: “The 5th, Đinh Sửu, of the 5th month Chiao Ch’i and Wan Hu set up an ambush in the citadel to shoot arrows [at the An Nam troops]. The following day, they withdrew across the Lô River.” Chiao Ch’i might be the commander of troops who had occupied Trường Yên and Thiên Trường and had then been driven away by Emperor Nhân Tông on the 3rd of the 5th month as recorded in ĐVSKTT. Thereafter, they retreated into Thăng Long in the hope of uniting with T’o Huan’s troops to launch another attack. On their arrival at Thăng Long, however, T’o Huan had ordered an entire retreat and they moved north with him after setting up some ambush and shooting inside the citadel as recorded by Lê Sực.

Thus, from the start of our besieging the enemy to their withdrawal out of the capital the campaign of liberating Thăng Long lasted for at least several weeks. It was a prolonged battle since T’o Huan had attempted to hold to our capital whereas our army resolved to drive them out. Therefore, exactly as recorded in ĐVSKTT, Emperor Nhân Tông had not been reported on this victory until the 10th of the 5th month.

The Battle of Như Nguyệt and General Trần Quốc Toản’s Sacrifice

Having withdrawn out of Thăng Long on the 6th of the 5th month, T’o Huan’s troops moved toward the Như Nguyệt River, where a battle was taking place, as recorded in Chinese history books, and a Vietnamese commander sacrificed himself, that is, Hoài Văn Hầu Trần Quốc Toản. In the words of An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209 p.8a10: “Mandarins and troops reached the Như Nguyệt River when Hoài Văn Hầu, by order of Nhật Huyên, came fighting.Ching Shih Ta Tien Tzŭ Lu of Yuan Wen Lei 41 p.27b1-2 says: “On [our army’s] arrival at the Như Nguyệt River, Hoài Văn Hầu, pursuing [us] by order of Nhật Huyên, was killed.

The battle is not mentioned in our history books. However, in an account of the military conference at Bình Than in the 10th month of Nhâm Ngọ (1282), where Hoài Văn Hầu Trần Quốc Toản, due to his young age, was not allowed to attend, ĐVSKTT says: “So shameful and angry that he was unaware of having squashed an orange in his hand. On his return home, he mobilized his servants and relatives, more than 1000 in number, had weapons made and fighting boats built, writing six words ‘destroying strong enemy for king’s sake’ on a large flag. Later, in the face of the enemy, he himself was always the spearhead of our army’s advance. Seeing him, no one of the enemy dared to fight against. At his death, King showed extremely regretful, writing a verse of mourning and conferring the posthumous title ‘Vương’ in memory of him.” Thus, although it does not record the battle of Như Nguyệt, ĐVSKTT indirectly mentions the heroic sacrifice of Hoài Văn Hầu in this battle through its account of his death and Emperor Nhân Tông’s regret.

The Victory at Tây Kết: Cutting Off So Tu’s Head

According to ĐVSKTT 5 p.47a, while our troops were pursuing the enemy, they were informed on the 7th of the 5th month of Ất Dậu (1285) that “So Tu moved his troops from Thanh Hóa (…). On the 17th day, So Tu and Wu Ma Er launched an attack [on our troops] on the Thiên Mạc River from the sea, intending to gather their troops in the capital to assist each other (...). On the 20th day, the two kings deployed troops at the ferry Đại Mang. A Yuan officer, Chang Hsien, surrendered. The same day, our troops defeated the enemy at Tây Kết, cutting off So Tu’s head and killing many of his troops. At midnight, Wu Ma Er fled across the estuary of Thanh Hóa. The two kings could not pursue him but captured more than 50,000 of his troops. With only one big ship, Wu Ma Er fled to the sea (…). Seeing So Tu’s head, the King said pitifully, ‘As being servants, let us do like this.’ Then, taking off his robe, with which he ordered his officials to cover So Tu’s head before burial. But later, by his secret order, the head was soaked in oil [and hanged up publicly] as a punishment because So Tu, on the pretext of taking the route, had invaded our country for three years.

That was the process of the battle of Tây Kết and So Tu’s death according to ĐVSKTT. In Chinese historical materials the event above is rather differently recorded, let alone some contradictions among them. Pen Chi of Yuan Shih 13 p.9b10-11, for instance, says: “Trần Nhật Huyên fled to the port. Chên Nan Wang ordered Li Hêng to pursue him, [but he was] defeated. Due to unfavorable weather and then epidemics, [our] troops wanted to retreat into Szu Ming in the north. [Chên Nan Wang] ordered So Tu to move troops back to Ô Lý. The An Nan [troops] pursued [our troops]. So Tu fought but was killed.” Thus, obviously So Tu had been ordered by T’o Huan to move his troops down to the south, in Ô Lý and Việt Lý of Champa, i.e, the present-day provinces of Quảng Trị and Thừa Thiên.

Nevertheless, So Tu Chuan of Yuan Shih 129 p.7b9-10 says: “T’o Huan ordered So Tu to halt his troops in Thiên Trường, approximately more than 200 miles from the headquarters, to seek supplies. Suddenly the king issued the order of withdrawal. T’o Huan withdrew his troops, informing So Tu of nothing. Later, the latter was told by Giao Chỉ [people] but he did not believe. When he reached the headquarters, they were empty. Giao Chỉ [troops] stopped him on the Càn Mãn River. So Tu fought against them but was killed.” Accordingly, So Tu had not been ordered to deploy his troops in Ô Lý and Việt Lý but in Thiên Trường so that he could not learn of T’o Huan’s withdrawal until he reached Thăng Long.

In the meantime, An Nam Chí Lược 4 p.54 affirms: “Having then learned of the great army’s withdrawal, So Tu led his troops northward from Thanh Hóa. On their way they fought with An Nam [troops] day and night. At Bái Khanh, Li Chiao Chang, a general under So Tu’s command, turned on the army. So Tu’s horse fell into water and he died. Wu Ma Er and Wan Hu Liu K’uei fled to the sea in their light boats. Following them was Hsiao Li, who, without any hope to escape, intended to cut his own throat. Seeing this, the Trần king ordered his rescue.

Thus, So Tu Chuan and An Nam Chí Lược agree on the fact that So Tu moved his troops from Thanh Hóa to the plains of north Vietnam but they have different accounts of the subsequent events. The Càn Mãn River, where So Tu is said to have been killed in So Tu Chuan cited above, is identified, in Section “Sơn Xuyên” of Đại Nam Nhất Thống Chí, with the ThịCầuRiver. Is it then true that So Tu was killed in the battle of Như Nguyệt?

The answer may be found in An Nam Chí Lược and ĐVSKTT. The former says that when So Tu’s troops reached Bái Khanh, one of his officers, Li Chiao Chang, betrayed them. Chang guided Đại Việt troops to fight So Tu and they cut off his head when he fell into the river with his horse. Meanwhile, the latter says that Emperor Nhân Tông and his father reached Đại Mang Bộ when an officer of the Yuan army, Chang Hsien, surrendered. Thus, Li Chiao Chang is none other than Chang Hsien; and Đại Mang Bộ is Bái Khanh. It was on the day of Chang Hsien’s surrender that the Đại Việt army under the command of Emperor Nhân Tông and the emperor-father won the battle, cutting off So Tu’s head and driving Wu Ma Er and Liu K’uei to the sea. Thus the southern wing of the Yuan army was completely annihilated.

The Victory at Vạn Kiếp

At the same time of our army’s crucial victory in the south, the campaign of pursuing the enemy’s forces in the north was urgently carried on by Trần Hưng Đạo. After their defeat on the NhưNguyệtRiver, T’o Huan’s troops moved down to Vạn Kiếp, where they encountered Trần Hưng Đạo’s troops. According to ĐVSKTT 5 p.47b, “On the 20th day (…) Hưng Đạo Vương fought with T’o Huan and Li Hêng in Vạn Kiếp. The enemy was defeated and many of them were drowned. Li Hêng ordered troops to protect T’o Huan in their withdrawal to Szu Ming. Li Hêng was killed with one of our troops’ poisoned arrows piercing his left knee. Hiding T’o Huan among bronze furniture, Pi Chiang Li Kuan gathered the remaining fifty thousand men and fled to the north. Hưng Đạo Vương pursued them to Szu Ming, using poisoned arrows to kill Li Kuan. The Yuan troops broke completely.

All the Chinese historical materials do not mention the battle of Vạn Kiếp, but they have accounts of the battle on the SáchRiver. An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209 p.8a10-12 says: “Reaching the Sách River, [our army] made a floating bridge to cross the river (…) Our troops were getting ready to cross the river when their troops in ambush rushed out from the forests. Mandarins and troops, most of whom were drowned, had to fight their way out of the land of Giao Chỉ. The troops of T’ang Wu Tai had to use post-horses to report the news [to the court].” It is similarly recorded in Ching Shih Ta Tien Tzu Lu in Yuan Wen Lei 41 p.27b2: “On the Sách River, their troops lying in ambush rushed out. Mandarin and troops competed with each other [to cross the river]. The floating bridge broke down and most of them were drowned.” In An Nam Chí Lược 4, p.54, it is somewhat different: “An Nam troops advanced toward the Nam Sách River. Yu Chêng Li Hêng fought against them in the rear, cutting down Trần Thiệu, a strong officer of Hưng Đạo Vương.

The SáchRiver mentioned in Yuan Shih and Ching Shih Ta Tien Tzŭ Lu is called the Nam Sách in An Nam Chí Lược. According to Khâm Định Việt Sử Thông Giám Cương Mục Tiền Biên 5 p.22a3, it is “in Nam Sách Prefecture of present-day Hải Dương Province.” Naturally, the battle of the Sách River might not occur in Nam Sách Prefecture, which was then not on the way of T’o Huan withdrawal. The Sách River must be close to Vạn Kiếp, where the battle occurred between Trần Hưng Đạo’s and T’o Huan’s troops as recorded in ĐVSKTT. The Sách River, therefore, must be the Thương River; and thus the battle of the Sách River mentioned in Chinese historical documents is the battle of Vạn Kiếp in ĐVSKTT. It was an abrupt ambush that made T’o Huan’s great army tread on each other to flee and many of them were killed when the floating bridge broke down.

According to Pen Chi of Yuan Shih 13 p.9b11-12, the reason T’o Huan could flee to Szu Ming was due to Li Hêng’s attempt to fight fiercely with Trần Hưng Đạo: “(On the Mậu Tuất day of the 5th month…) Hêng fought in the rear to protect Chên Nan Wang. A poisoned arrow pierced his left knee. Due to the effect of poison, he died in Szu Ming.” In order to cross the border, however, T’o Huan’s defeated troops had to face another ambush in Vĩnh Bình, which was recorded only on the tombstone of Li Hêng and cited by Yao Sui (1238-1313) in Mu An Chi 12 p.8b5: “The enemy closed the frontier pass in Vĩnh Bình, using poisoned arrows to hurt him on the knee. He attempted to fight his way across the border. When reaching Szu Ming, he died because of the effect of poison.” This battle is not mentioned in Li Hêng Chuan of Yuan Shih 129 p.9a12-11b5: “The ‘barbarian’ troops pursued, storming [our] army’s rear. Wang (i.e. T’o Huan) changed his order at once, posting Li Hêng to the rear to secure our army’s withdrawal. Hêng was pierced with a poisoned arrow on the knee. A soldier had to carry him to Szu Ming, where he died due to the poison. He was then at the age fifty.

The Victory at Phù Ninh

While Trần Hưng Đạo pursued T’o Huan’s troops in the north-east, Trần Nhật Duật drove Na Su La Ting’s troops on their way back to Yun Nan. The latter troops are not mentioned in Pen Chi and An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih to be among T’o Huan’s invading armed forces in our country. They are merely recorded in Na Su La Ting Chuan Fu of Yuan Shih 125, p.3b, where the date of Chih Yuan 22 (1285) is mistaken for Chih Yuan 32 (1295). It says: “In Chih Yuan 22, Na Su La Ting commanded 1000 troops of Ho La Chang[7] and Mongols, following Crown Prince T’o Huan to march into Giao Chỉ. Due to his merit, he was awarded 2000 coins of silver.

In our history books Na Su La Ting’s troops, too, were not mentioned until Chiêu Văn Vương Trần Nhật Duật’s death in 1330. In an account of Trần Nhật Duật’s participation in the anti-Ming war of 1285, ĐVSKTT 7 p.3a7-b3 says: “Toward the end of Thiệu Bảo, he was defending Camp Thu Vật in Tuyên Quang. When the Yuan enemy had just come [to our country], Chiêu Quốc reported [to the king]: ‘Chiêu Văn in Tuyên Quang might have called the Yuan enemy in.’ (He said so because Nhật Duật liked making friends with Sung people.) When Tuyên Quang was lost, Nhật Duật withdrew downstream. The enemy pursued him along the river banks but he attempted to halt them. Seeing that they moved so slowly, he said to our troops: ‘Generally the pursuing troops move very quickly, but in this case the enemy is moving very slowly. I think that there may be other troops standing ahead.’ Then he sent a man to watch, who reported later that a troop of the enemy was posted on the lower river. He ordered his troops to flee from the river.

Thus, when Na Su La Ting moved his troops along the Red River, from Yun Nan down to Thăng Long, Trần Nhật Duật’s troops stopped them and then withdrew by the end of Thiệu Bảo, i.e. the years 1284-1285. Therefore, when T’o Huan held a conference of his staff in Thăng Long and made a decision of withdrawal, Na Su La Ting must have been appointed to withdraw the north-western wing toward Yun Nan. And on their way of withdrawal, they encountered our troops’ violent attack commanded by Hà Đặc and Hà Chương.

In an account of the movement of T’o Huan and Wu Ma Er’s troops from the sea to attack our base at Thiên Mạc on the 17th of the 5th month of Ất Dậu (1285), ĐVSKTT p.47 says: “When the enemy reached Phù Ninh District, the official of the district, Hà Đặc, commanded his men to defend Trỉ Sơn against them. The enemy’s troops were encamped at the cave Cự Đà. Đặc ordered his men to make human forms of bamboo clad in genuine clothes, which were repeatedly moved out of and into the district at night [to deceive the enemy into thinking that there existed a great number of our resistant troops]. Moreover, he had holes drilled on the big trees, in which arrows were fixed through to deceive the enemy into thinking that our men were so strong that they could shoot through big trees with arrows. Accordingly, the enemy was frightened of fighting with us. Immediately, our troops rushed out to liquidate them. At A Lạp, Đặc had a floating bridge built for the troops to cross the river. In this pursuit he was killed. His brother, Chương, was captured but then escaped with some flags and uniforms taken from the enemy’s troops, which he  submitted to the king and suggested that, with those flags and uniforms, our troops could disguise themselves as the enemy’s troops to penetrate into their camps. Due to that plan, our army could annihilate the enemy.

The fact of our army’s fight against Na Su La Ting has usually been misunderstood since, in ĐVSKTT, it is recorded in a mixed account of Wu Ma Er and So Tu’s attack on our army’s position at Thiên Mạc. Recognizing this confusion, the author of Khâm Định Việt Sử Thông Giám Cương Mục 7 p.41b1-3 says: “So Tu advanced from the sea to attack Thiên Mạc whereas his patrol moved to the district of Phù Ninh, where it would take them about three or four days to move from the former position. Naturally, this was not the case but some mistake alone. Let us study it later.” In reality, there is not any false account in ĐVSKTT. Yet, it is due to its combination of the two facts mentioned above in the same context that some confusion might be made by the reader. Phù Ninh was a district in what is now Phú Thọ Province. As regards the cave Cự Đà, it is not found today but Tử Đà Commune, which is said in Hà Đặc’s posthumous record to be his native village, is located in Phù Ninh District. Similarly, the position named A Lạp is not found today but it is recorded in Đồng Khánh Địa Dư Chí that the communes An Lạp and Đức Lạp were situated in Lập Thạch District of Sơn Tây Province. Thus, it may be possible that Cự Đà is another name of Tử Đà and A Lạp of An Lạp. Hence, the battles in which Hà Đặc and Hà Chương were involved might occur along the Red River in present-day PhúThọProvince.

The Triumphant March into Thăng Long

After driving the enemy out of the country in the glorious battles of Vạn Kiếp, Phù Ninh, Emperor Nhân Tông, his emperor-father and generals Hưng Đạo Vương Trần Quốc Tuấn, Chiêu Minh Vương Trần Quang Khải, Hưng Ninh Vương Trần Quốc Tung, and so on, triumphantly marched into Thăng Long Capital amid the cheers of ten thousands of troops and people of Thăng long, who had completely broken down the plan of occupying and dominating our people by the northern invaders. In the name of one of the outstanding generals who had commanded the campaign to liberate Thăng Long, Thượng Tướng Thái Sư Trần Quang Khải, the direct administrator of the civil government of the nation, wrote a poem, praising our people’s war of resistance and appeal to the whole people’s efforts of establishing an eternal peace for the Fatherland and the coming generations:

Stripping the enemy of spears in Chương Dương,

Capturing the Hồ troops in Hàm Tử,

Make great efforts to establish

An eternal peace for our beloved country.

Translation by Đạo Sinh



[1] Author’s note: transliterated in An Nam Chí Lựơc as Wan Hu Li Lo Ho Ta Er. [From here on, all the footnotes by the author are marked with LMT in brackets.]

[2] E. Gaspardone, Ngan-nan Tche Yuan, Hanoi: Imprimarie d’Extreme-Orient, 1932, p.47. [LMT]

[3] 殺 韃 , killing the Tatars ( 韃 靼 ), a designation of the Mongols by the Vietnamese at that time.

[4] The highest of titles conferred on a subject of the Imperial Court.

[5] Emperor Nhân Tông and his Emperor-father Thánh Tông.

[6] Denoting to the invaders from the north.

[7] Qarajang, that is Wu Tuan troops of Yun Nan. [LMT]

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