Battle of Mohi Heath, 1241

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Subedei versus King Bela IV: A Mongol army under Subedei is confident of victory against a larger Hungarian army under Bela. Will Subedei’s smoke and mirrors prove to be too much for Bela’s numbers? Also known as the Battle of the Sajo River. .

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Significance
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This battle should scare Western historians; a Mongol invading army annihilates a Hungarian army while another annihilates a Polish army at Leignitz, opening Eastern Europe to destruction. This could have been a preview for the rest of Europe had the Mongols not just suddenly withdrew. This battle should also excite alternate historians and war-gamers. Would the Mongols have made short work of Western Europe? I would argue that Subedei and the Mongols would have subdued Western Europe within their assessed time frame of 16-18 years. While the Holy Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Muslim Spain, and France may have posed interesting challenges for the Mongols, given the diversity of enemies the Mongols had already defeated by this time, there is little reason to believe the Mongols would not have adapted and eventually conquered the region.
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Analysis
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The crucial failure of Bela in this battle is reconnaissance; by assuming the river had only one crossing, he failed to post his light cavalry along the river as an early warning, allowing a large Mongol force to encircle his own. Subedei meanwhile proved his flexibility; after failing to lure Bela across the bridge as intended, he quickly devised another equally devastating plan. This battle is a stereotypical Mongol victory and features a wide range of their tactics..
mohi heath preview 2
.Notes
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The animation sequences got a little convoluted and complicated in this one. Take a look at what my screen looked like when I was finishing the animation, here. Even so, Mongol battles are excellent examples of how to not only defeat, but to annihilate, the enemy.
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The Hungarian side should include more cavalry unit symbols instead of infantry symbols. This is unfortunately not something easy to correct once the animation is completed.

– Jonathan Webb
Works Consulted
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Dupuy, Trevor N. The Harper Encyclopedia of Military History: From 3500 BC to the Present, Fourth Edition. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.
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Edwards, Sean J.A. “Swarming and the Future of Warfare.” Pardee Rand Graduate School. http://www.rand.org/pubs/rgs_dissertations/2005/RAND_RGSD189.pdf (Apr. 6, 2008).
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Gabriel, Richard A. Genghis Khan’s Greatest General: Subotai the Valiant. Norman: Oklahoma University Press, 2004.
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Goodenough, Simon. Tactical Genius in Battle. Oxford: Phodian Press, 1979.Hildinger, Erik. “Mongol Invasions: Battle of Liegnitz.” History Net. http://www.historynet.com/mongol-invasions-battle-of-liegnitz.htm/2 (Apr. 6, 2008).

          Warriors of the Steppe: A Military History of Central Asia 500 BC to 1700 AD. Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 1997.

Kennedy, Hugh. Mongols, Huns & Vikings. London: Cassell, 2002.

“The Battle of Mohi.” All Empires Online History Community. http://www.allempires.com/article/index.php?q=battle_mohi (Apr. 6, 2008).

Images
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Hungarian infantry: http://www.sierratoysoldier.com/ourstore/pc/viewPrd.asp?idcategory=158&idproduct=2817

Hungarian heavy cavalry: http://www.miniatures.de/int/dba-army-151-teutonic-order.html

King Bela IV: http://www.krizevci.net/hr/html/belabula.html

Map of Europe: http://www.greendragonsociety.com/warriors/Mongols_page.htm

Map of the world: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_map_projections

Mongol mixed cavalry: http://xenohistorian.faithweb.com/russia/ru01.html

Subedei: http://www.coldsiberia.org/subedei.htm

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Readers Comments (7)

  1. I don’t want to argue about the exaggerated numbers (perhaps 60-67,000 Hungarians vs. 40-45,000 “mongols”), nor 1000 mongol losses (ludicrous for a battle lasting “from early sunrise to late afternoon).
    But where did you get 58,000 INFANTRY?
    Early Hungarians were exclusively horsemen, had no infantry at all, did not appear in standard army until 15th century! Andy

  2. I actually thought Yarmuk would stir the most controversy for numbers but my research has shown that no battle’s numbers are completely universal.

    Please note my numbers are 70,000 Hungarians versus 50,000 Mongols, suffering 65,000 and 4,000 casualties respectively. These numbers are well-supported by my sources located on my Works Consulted page (bottom of home page) and appear accurate based on accounts of the battle.

    As for the composition of the Hungarian force: Edwards in “Swarming and the Future of Warfare” states that “this Christian armywas composed of a small core of heay cavalry supported by more numerous mercenary foot soldiers and relatively poorly-armed and undisciplined feudal levies.” From my research I concluded that the purely Hungarian army elements of this mixed force were in fact mainly cavalry but the rest were just as Edwards described. This would also explain why so few escaped or were able to make a concentrated counterattack against the Mongol encirclement.

    Again, sources vary. Thank you for coming forward to discuss numbers/exaggerations, it is not discusssed constructively enough in my opinion.

  3. Enjoy your animations! Just a little nitpick. The narration makes it sound like there was a unified European response to Subedai’s invasion. There wasn’t – just a series of national-level responses that as you note were largely unsuccessful. Also, not sure I’d refer to Hungary as being in eastern Europe – it’s central Europe.

    Finally, there is question whether the Mongols intended to stay in Europe, strike much further West, or if it was a raid on a huge scale. That said, if they DID want to stay, Hungary would have been an excellent base for their horse-riding hordes.

  4. The Mongol’s never intended to stay in Europe. The Mongol military conquests were largely based on the loot which they got from whichever city/region they conquered. For example when they raided Bejing and Baghdad two of the wealthiest cities in Asia, the plunder was unimaginable. However when they reached Europe, the Khan was unimpressed by the spoils of Eastern Europe and went back to formulate an attack on the Song Dynasty in southeast Asia.

    That being said, the Mongol’s established trade with the Europeans under Kublai Khan, even exchanging scholars and priests etc. While there was no intention of conquest, they were very interested in Christianity and learning more about the European people.

    As far as the battle itself, it about as accurate as my personal research revealed. King Bela was very unprepared for this battle, he actually dismissed the mongols as non-threat, fielding mostly peasants, like most of the Russian city states did. The Mongol military tactics in Eastern Europe were something that they have polished over the years. The Mongols would attack surrounding villages in order to force all the peasants to flee to the big cities. Once the big cities were full the Mongols would starve it out. In some cases, the Mongols built their own wooden wall around a fortified city, in order to ensure that nobody escapes (psychologically must have been devastating). Once one city is full of peasants, after sacking it, those would flee to the next city, and so on and so forth. Chinggis Khan once said, “Never fight a battle you can’t win”.

    The Mongols rarely lost a battle, because they pushed to have the battle fought where the enemy is at it’s weakest. And in this case, they were all packed nice and tightly in Bela’s encampment, it must have been like shooting fish in a barrel.

  5. Christopher Szabo December 11, 2010 @ 10:34 am

    You forgot some facts:
    1. Batu wanted to break contact and withdraw, because his losses were so high. Subudei
    2. Far more importantly, no medieval sources speaks of field artillery, I have read about this mirage before. Where is this idea from??

  6. Wendell: I’ve received a number of comments mentioning the Central/Eastern Europe issue. For instance, my google analytics features only Western Europe and Eastern Europe as sub-continent regions and I did not consider the connotations of such terms, which some are obviously more sensitive to than I am.

    Christopher: Looking back on this animation (I believe it was the fifth of sixth I ever completed), I should have made it clearer that the Mongols did not just walk over the Hungarians in this battle, as lop-sided as the end result was.

    As for field artillery, I am referring only to catapults which Hildinger mentions in “Warriors of the Steppe: A Military History of Central Asia 500 BC to 1700 AD” as well as Turnbull in “Genghis Khan & the Mongol conquests, 1190-1400.” Some accounts mistakenly reported that the Mongols were using more modern cannons however.

  7. Jonathan – Thank you for this animation. I showed it to my eighth grade classes this year to support my discussion of Mongol battle tactics like Tulghma and Mangudai. The students enjoyed it. I’ll have to learn to do this for them.

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