The Battle of
Vochang (1272 AD)

Burmese vs. Yuan Chinese


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The battle of Vochang is one of several recounted in Marco Polo's travels, and involves a preemptive attack by the Burmese (The King of Mien and Bangala) against a Mongol (Yuan Chinese) army dispatched by Kublai Khan to garrison the border kingdoms of Kardandan and Karazan. The following account of the battle fought near the city of Vochang (Yung-chang)) in Kardandan is excerpted from the Komroff translation.  Burmese sources acknowledge the battle, but place it over 100 kilometers way at Nga-zaung-kyn and several years later in 1281 AD.  Polo recounts:

"It happened that in the year 1272 the Great Khan sent an army into the countries of Vochang and Karazan, for their protection and defense against any attack that foreigners might attempt to make....When the king of Mien and Bangala, in India, who was powerful in the number of his subjects, in extent of territory, and in wealth, heard that an army of Tatars had arrived at Volchange, he advanced immediately to attack it, in order that by its destruction the Great Khan should be detered from again attempting to station a force upon the borders of his dominion. For this purpose, he assembled a very large army, including a multitude of elephants upon whose backs were placed battlements or castles, of wood, capable of containing twelve or sixteen men."

"As soon as the approach of the king of Mien, with so great a force, was known to Nestardin, who commanded the troops of the Great Khan, although a brave and able officer, he felt much alarmed, not having under his orders more than twelve thousand men, whereas the enemy had sixty thousand, beside the elephants. He did not, however, betray any sign of apprehension, but descending into the plain of Vochang, took a position in which his flank was covered by a thick wood. In case of a furious charge by the elephants his troops might be able to retire in this wood. And from here, in security, could annoy them with arrows."

The King of Mien deployed his army with the elephants to the front and advanced to within striking range of the Tatar horsemen. The Tatars charged, but their horses proved unmanageable as they approached the Burmese elephants. At a signal, Nastardin ordered his horsemen to dismount and their horses were lead away into the wood. Meanwhile, the dismounted Yuan "without loss of time, advanced on foot towards the line of elephants, and commenced a brisk discharge of arrows."

The Burmese crossbowmen returned volleys, but found themselves overmatched by the rapid fire, range and power of the Mongol recurve bows. The Burmese elephants were "soon covered with arrows, and, suddenly giving way, fell back upon their own people in the rear, who were thereby thrown into confusion." Eventually, the elephants rampaged off the field to take refuge in the adjacent wood, where tree branches dismounted their wooden battlements and wrecked havoc with their crews.

Meanwhile, "upon seeing the rout of the elephants the Tatars acquired fresh courage, and filing off by detachments, with perfect order and regularity, they remounted their horses and joined their several divisions. Then the fierce and dreadful combat was renewed."

The battle continued until the quivers on both sides were exhausted, and the Tatars fought on with swords and iron maces on horse and on foot against the men of Mien. According to Polo, "so great also was the exchange of blows and such the shoutings and shrieks, that the noise seemed to ascend to the skies."

Despite the King of Mien's personal valor in rallying his troops and despite his advantage in numbers, eventually his army gave way in rout under the pressure of the Tatars' relentless attack. In the last stage of the battle, the Tatars collected their scattered forces to attack the Burmese elephant crews, who had cut down trees and thrown up barricades in the woods to mount a defense. They were quickly overwhelmed, and the Nestardin was able to present over two hundred captured war elephants to the Great Khan.

The Armies

Burmese (III/9b)

Tatars (Yuan Chinese) (IV/48 modified) -- 1x 3Cv//Ax(Gen), 3x 3Cv//Ax, 4x 2LH//Ps, 1x 4Cb, 1x 2Ps


Tatars deploy first, with all eligible troops mounted.  Burmese deploy second and attack. Burmese must initially deploy a reserve of two elements of Auxilia as a reserve with rear or side edges touching the Burmese camp.

Battle Map

Terrain Notes -- Terrain is as indicated on the battlemap. The dark green represents a large bad going wood.  Although not mentioned in Polo's account, a road is provided to represent the traveled route to Vochang.

Special Rules

Dismounting:  Tartar (Yuan Chinese) cavalry and light horse can dismount to the foot type indicated in the modified army list.  Dismounting is conducted as a single-element move requiring 1 PIP and may not end in contact with an enemy.  A dismounted foot element may remount as a single-element move requiring 1 PIP if it begins its bound outside the zone of control of any enemy element.  No additional movement is allowed by the remounters except for second or subsequent tactical moves by eligible elements spending additional PIPs.  Tartars must dismount to enter the woods.

Elephants in Woods:  Burmese elephants who enter the woods voluntarily or as a result of a recoil are removed from play and replaced with a psiloi for the balance of the game.

Victory Conditions

Normal DBA.

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Last Update:  7 June 2005

Comments and feedback welcome
and can be sent to Chris Brantley.