Trần Hưng Đạo

Trần Hưng Đạo

Trần Hưng Đạo (1228–1300; ) was the Vietnamese military Grand Commander of Thang Long during the Trần Dynasty. Born as Trần Quốc Tuấn (), he commanded the Dai Viet (Đại Việt) armies that repelled two major Mongol invasions in the 13th century. [ [ The Tran Dynasty and the Defeat of the Mongols] ] His multiple victories over the mighty Mongol Yuan Dynasty under Kublai Khan are considered among the greatest military feats in world history. General Trần Hưng Đạo's military brilliance and prowess is reflected in his many treatises on warfare and he is considered one of the most accomplished generals in history.


Trần Quốc Tuấn had just been born just after the Trần Dynasty replaced the Lý Dynasty in 1225 AD, when the last Lý monarch Lý Chiêu Hoàng abdicated the throne in favour of her husband Trần Thái Tông. Many in the Lý royal family blamed the Trần for usurping and in particular, Imperial Regent Trần Thủ Độ its architect. Trần Quốc Tuấn was born to Grand Duke Trần Liễu, the older brother of the new emperor, Trần Thái Tông. That same year, Trần Liễu being the Empress Ly Chieu Hoang's brother-in-law at the time was forced to defer his own wife (Tran Hung Dao's mother) to his younger brother Emperor Thái Tông under pressure from Imperial Regent Trần Thủ Độ in order to solidify Trần family's role in the imperial government. Trần Liễu and Emperor Trần Thái Tông both harboured a grudges against their uncle Trần Thủ Độ for the forceful arrangement. Trần Quốc Tuấn, his father, and Emperor Trần Thái Tông had a very close relationship. Liễu would find great tutors to teach his son Trần Quốc Tuấn with the hope of one day becoming a great leader of Đại Việt and regaining his family's honour. On his deathbed, Liễu told his son to avenge what he felt was personal shame forced upon him and his brother by the Imperial Regent.

The second Mongol invasion

In 1285, Kublai Khan demanded passage through the Kingdom of Đại Việt (in northern Vietnam) for his Yuan army on their invasion of the kingdom of Champa. When Đại Việt's Emperor Trần Nhân Tông refused, the Mongol army, led by Prince Toghan, attacked Đại Việt and seized the capital Thăng Long (modern day Hanoi). The Vietnamese retreated to the south after burning off most of their crops and facilities. Trần Hưng Đạo and other generals escorted the Royal Court, staying just ahead of the Mongol army in hot pursuit. When the Mongol army had been worn down with tropical diseases and lack of supplies, Trần Hưng Đạo launched a counter-offensive. Most of the battles were on the waterfronts, where the Mongols could not use their cavalry strength. Mongol commander Sogetu of the southern front was killed in the battle. In their withdrawal from Đại Việt, the Mongols were also attacked by the Hmong and Yao minorities in the northern regions.

The third Mongol invasion

In 1287, Kublai Khan again sent Prince Toghan to lead another army into Đại Việt. The Mongol forces consist of infantry, cavalry and a full fleet with the total strength estimated at 150,000 men according to the [need an original accounting of a source or book] original Vietnamese history.

During the first stage, the Mongols quickly defeated most of the Đại Việt troops, stationed along the border. Prince Toghan's fleet devastated most of the force of General Trần Khánh Dư in Vân Đồn. Right before that, Prince Ariq-Qaya had led his cavalry to attack and capture Phú Lương and Đại Than, two important border stations in the north of Đại Việt. This ground force later met up with Prince Toghan's fleet in Vân Đồn. King Trần Nhân Tông called back General Trần Khánh Dư for court-martial, but this general delayed his return and regrouped his force in Vân Đồn. The cavalry and fleet of Prince Toghan continue to advance to Thăng Long. Unfortunately, the trailing supply fleet of Prince Toghan, arriving at Vân Đồn right after that, was ambushed and captured by the remaining forces of General Trần Khánh Dư.

This news together with the news that General Trần Hưng Đạo had recaptured Đại Than in the north sent the fast advancing Mongol forces into chaos. Guerrilla tactics by the Vietnamese also started to cause a great deal of casualties to the Mongols. But the Mongols kept advancing to Thăng Long, which was already abandoned by Đại Việt's king. The following battle results were mixed: the Mongols won at Yên Hưng and Long Hưng but lost in the sea of Đại Bàng. Eventually, Prince Toghan decided to withdraw his army: he would lead the ground force through Nội Bàng while his fleet commander, Omar would direct the fleet back through Bạch Đằng River.

The Battle of Bạch Đằng River

The Mongol fleet, however, had no idea of an unconventional trap already set by General Trần Hưng Đạo on Bạch Đằng River. Trần Hưng Đạo, for months before that, had his soldiers and peasants place huge steel-tipped wooden stakes in some waters of Bạch Đằng River. During the retreat of Omar, the Vietnamese used small craft to aggravate and lure the Mongol vessels to those waters, in what first appeared to be a victorious pursuit of the Mongols. As the tide on Bạch Đằng River receded, the Mongol vessels got stuck and sunk by those embedded steel-tipped stakes. The Vietnamese led by Trần Hưng Đạo burned off approximately 400 Mongol vessels and attacked ships on this river. The entire Mongol fleet was destroyed, and Omar, the Mongol fleet admiral was captured and executed.

The ground force of Prince Toghan was more fortunate. They were ambushed along the road through Nội Bàng, but managed to escape back to China by dividing their forces into smaller retreating groups.


Being a member of the royal family, Trần Hưng Đạo was a man of intellect and was an accomplished poet. From a young age, he was very fond of classical Chinese literature and was very well-versed in "The Art of War" by the famous Sun Tzu. Poetry was his first and true passion and would have pursued that course had not for the multiple Yuan Mongol invasion attempts into Dai Viet that spanned over sixty years. Military became his recourse and it turned out that his military works proved to be his most successful accomplishments.


For his military brilliance in defending Đại Việt during his lifetime, The Emperor posthumously bestowed Trần Hưng Đạo title of Hưng Đạo Đại Vuong (Grand Prince Hung Dao) for his military contributions. In 1300 AD, he fell ill and died of natural causes at the age of 73. His body was cremated and his ashes were poured under a favorite oak tree he planted in his royal family estate near Thang Long according to his will. The Vietnamese intended to bury him in a lavish royal mausouleum and ceremony upon his death, but he declined in favour of a simple, humble private ceremony.


It must be noted that Tran Hung Dao achieved his military success with an army largely constituted of poorly equipped volunteers and peasant conscripts against the mighty hordes of the Mongols who were at the apex of their power after conquering most of Asia. His strategic brilliance had contributed much to this success.

Đại Việt's General Trần Hưng Đạo defeated the Mongols in two major campaigns. General Trần Hưng Đạo led an army of poorly equipped volunteers and peasant conscripts against the overstretched forces of the Mongol Empire. This, combined with losses against the Japanese in the Battle of Koan and failed raids into Europe, marked the end of the apex of Mongol power. Trần Hưng Đạo defeated them with inventive military tactics by exploiting their traditional "raiding" style of warfare which relied on lightning-strike cavalry maneuverability. He is famous for arguably pioneering the "hit and run" warfare. Trần Hưng Đạo was a master of strategic geographical war fighting, applying advantageous landscapes to stage battles in places such as dense forests or on waterfronts where enemy cavalry were mostly ineffective.

Most notable was his speech "Hich Tuong Si" (Call of Soldiers/Proclamation to Officers and Troops), addressing his soldiers at the beginning of the Mongol Invasion in 1285.

His advice to Emperor Trần Anh Tôn prior to his death in 1300 served several times as reference for most of Vietnamese in the struggle for independence:"When the enemy advances roaring like fire and wind, it is easy to overcome them. If they use patience like the silkworm nibbling berry leaves without looking for a quick victory and without fleecing people, we need to have not only good generals but also an elaboration of adequate tactics like in a chess game. In any way, the army should be united, having only one heart like father and sons in a family, the people should be treated with humanity so we can guarantee deep roots and durable bases."

He is revered by the Vietnamese people as a national hero. Several temples are dedicated to him. Most major cities in Vietnam have streets named after him.

ee also

*Trần Dynasty
*History of Vietnam
*Mongol invasions of Vietnam


External links

* [ TRAN HUNG DAO (1213-1300)]
* [ Statue of Trần Hưng Đạo, Vietnamese Hero, 19th-20th. C.]
* [ Le Vietnam et la stratégie du faible au fort]
* [ Call of Soldiers] Translated and adapted by George F. Schultz

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