Battle of Hefei

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Hefei
partof=the Three Kingdoms period

date= (First battle)December 208-209 AD
(Second battle)August 215-217 AD
(Third battle)December 233 AD
(Fourth battle)June-July 234 AD
(Fifth battle)April-August 253 AD
place=Hefei, China
result=Indecisive, Wu retreats
combatant1=Cao Wei
combatant2=Eastern Wu
commander1=(First battle) Liu Fu, Jiang Ji
(Second battle) Zhang Liao, Li Dian, Yue Jin
(Third battle) Man Chong
(Fourth battle) Zhang Ying, Man Chong
(Fifth battle) Zhang Te, Sima Fu
commander2=Sun Quan
(Fifth battle) Zhuge Ke
strength1=(Second battle)approximately 30,000
(Fifth battle)approximately 90,000
strength2=(Second battle)approximately 100,000
(Fourth battle)100,000
(Fifth battle)approximately 200,000
The Battle of Hefei (合肥之戰) was a significant event in the Three Kingdoms era of China. The forces of Wu and Wei fought each other for control of the Wei-controlled garrison at Hefei. Hefei was a city which Cao Cao ordered Liu Fu to build at the south-eastern part of the Wei Kingdom, which was meant to be a fortress for defensive purposes. Hence, the defense of Hefei was extremely important to the Wei Kingdom as if Hefei falls to the Wu Kingdom, the Wei capital city Xuchang would be in danger. To the Wu Kingdom, Hefei was a strategic location as it could halt their invasion of the Wei Kingdom, as well as serving as a city for storing supplies if the city falls to Wu. Hence, both kingdoms fought five battles for control of Hefei between 208 AD to 253 AD, but neither side emerged the winner.

First battle

In November 208, Cao Cao was badly defeated at the battle of Red Cliffs, but still had a strong army stationed at the northern part of Jingzhou. In December, the Wu troops under Zhou Yu's command invaded Jiangling, which was under Cao Ren's control while Sun Quan personally led an army to attack Hefei, which was under Liu Fu's control, hoping to create a new war front in the west and the north. Sun Quan's troops surrounded Hefei, and he sent Zhang Zhao to attack Dangtu in Jiujiang, but did not succeed.

Order of battle

Cao Wei force:
*General Zhang Xi (张喜) was sent to lead a 1,000 strong force to rescue Hefei
*Yangzhou Inspector (扬州刺史) Liu Fu, in charge of Hefei until December, 208
**Yangzhou Assistant Inspector (扬州别驾) Jiang Ji (蒋济), in charge of Hefei from December 208 till Sun Quan’s withdraw
Eastern Wu force:
*General Suppressing Barbarians (讨虏将军) Sun Quan would strike Hefei from Chaisang (柴桑)
**Senior Minister (长史) Zhang Zhao would strike Dangtu
**Senior Minister (长史) Zhang Hong was Sun Quan’s deputy when striking Hefei

Cao Cao sent Zhang Xi to rescue the besieged Hefei upon receiving the news. Sun Quan's troops had besieged Hefei till the next year, but were still unable to conquer it. Sun Quan decided to personally lead a light cavalry division to attack the enemy, but senior administration officer Zhang Hong advised him against it, and Sun Quan abandoned his plan.

Hefei had been besieged and attacked at several times for the past few months, and heavy rain was falling, causing the city walls to crumble, so Liu Fu had no choice but to use fiber to cover up the cracks in the walls. At night, Liu Fu personally went to survey the enemy, making plans to defend Hefei. Despite having been quite some time, the reinforcements led by Zhang Xi had not reached Hefei, and Liu Fu was at a loss for how to resist the Wu troops. His deputy Jiang Ji advised him to send three generals out of the city with fake letters which mentioned that the reinforcements under Zhang Xi had arrived and Liu Fu would be receiving them. Sun Quan caught two of the generals and read the letters. He thought that the Wei reinforcements had arrived and decided to retreat in failure.

econd battle

In 214, Cao Cao's southern campaign against Sun Quan had ended in failure and he decided to retreat, leaving behind Zhang Liao, Li Dian and Yue Jin to guard Hefei with 7000 men. The next year, Cao Cao sent Xue Ti to deliver a letter to Hefei before he led an army to attack Zhang Lu in Hanzhong. On the envelope, it was written 'Do not open this letter yet, until the enemy has arrived'. At the same time, Sun Quan and Liu Bei retreated from Jingzhou after agreeing to split Jingzhou after conquering it. Sun Quan saw that Cao Cao had just conquered Hanzhong and could not get back to the east in time, so in August, he led an army of about 100,000 men to attack Hefei.

Zhang Liao and his deputies opened the envelope and read the letter, on which this was written 'If Sun Quan has arrived, Zhang Liao and Li Dian will meet the enemy, Yue Jin will stay and guard the city and not engage the enemy.' All three generals were dumbfounded, and Zhang Liao said, 'The lord(Cao Cao) is out at war, by the time his reinforcements arrive, we would have been defeated by the enemy. The lord wishes us to affect the enemy's morale before the actual battle begins, in order to calm the troops. Only then can we defend the city effectively. The crucial battle is about to begin, does anyone have any doubts? ' Li Dian agreed with Zhang Liao and gathered about 800 men overnight, preparing to attack the enemy the next day. At daybreak, Zhang Liao personally led the charge in the Wu formation, killing several dozen enemy soldiers and two generals. The Wu general Chen Wu was killed in battle, and Zhang Liao charged all the way to Sun Quan's main camp. The Wu generals Song Qian and Xu Sheng were unable to resist Zhang Liao's attack and their troops deserted. The Wu general Pan Zhang chased after them and killed two deserting soldiers. The deserting soldiers were shocked and afraid, so they turned back and fought the Wei troops.

Sun Quan was shocked and his troops did not know what to do, so Sun Quan ascended to the top of a hill, standing there firmly with a spear in hand. Zhang Liao shouted for Sun Quan to come down and fight him, Sun Quan did not dare to move, but when saw that Zhang Liao had fewer troops, he ordered to have Zhang Liao surrounded. Zhang Liao managed to fight his way out of the encirclement with a small number of soldiers. The other soldiers trapped in the encirclement shouted 'General Zhang had abandoned us!' Zhang Liao turned round and charged into the enemy formation and rescued the trapped soldiers. Sun Quan's troops were defeated badly by Zhang Liao and deserted as no one dared to resist Zhang Liao. Since the battle had been on since morning till noon, both sides were exhausted and went back to their respective bases. The Wei army's morale was greatly boosted.

Sun Quan's troops besieged Hefei for several days but were still unable to conquer Hefei, and the troops were infected with a disease. Hence, Sun Quan had no choice but to retreat, with himself, Ling Tong, Gan Ning, Lu Meng and other generals at the rear. At Xiaoyaojin, Zhang Liao saw the Wu troops retreating, so he led his army to attack the retreating Wu troops. The Wu troops were thrown into confusion, and Sun Quan was surrounded by enemy troops. Gan Ning led the archers to shoot down the enemy troops surrounding his lord, while Ling Tong led about 300 troops to rescue Sun Quan. Lu Meng and Jiang Qin's troops were badly defeated and suffered heavy casualties. Ling Tong managed to rescue Sun Quan and he turned back to fight the Wei troops. However, the Xiaoshi Bridge which the Wu troops had to cross had been destroyed. Sun Quan managed to leap across the bridge to safety on his horse. Later, Sun Quan met the 3000 backup troops under He Qi's command and safely retreated back to Jiangdong. Ling Tong and Gan Ning were still fighting on bravely against the Wei troops and had lost almost all their troops, and suffered grave wounds. They only retreated when they heard that their lord was safe. This expedition led to the Battle of Ruxukou in 217.

Third and fourth battles

In 230, Hefei's defense was greatly strengthened and had evolved into a major and prosperous city. In December 233, Sun Quan decided to lead troops to attack Hefei again. The city was far from the river so Sun Quan's troops who were on their battleships didn't dare to de-board their ships yet. Man Chong sent 6000 troops to wait in ambush and when Sun Quan troops finally set foot on land, the Wei troops in ambush attacked Sun Quan's troops. Sun Quan also sent Quan Cong to attack Liuan but did not succeed as well.

In February 234, Shu-Han Prime Minister Zhuge Liang prepared for the fifth northern expedition, and sent an envoy to Wu, requesting Sun Quan to send troops to attack Wei as well. Sun Quan agreed and in May, Sun Quan's troops(reported to be 100,000) set up base camp at Chaohu Port. Sun Quan personally led his army to attack Hefei, and sent Lu Xun and Zhuge Jin to attack Xiangyang, with Sun Shao and Zhang Cheng to attack Guangling, Huaiyin, forming a three-pronged attack on Wei to attract Wei relief forces, and then attack them.

In June, Man Chong wanted to lead reinforcements to rescue Zhang Ying at Hefei, but Tian Yu said that the troops at Hefei were enough to resist Sun Quan's attack and the Wu troops might attack the reinforcements. Many of the troops and generals were on leave, so Man Chong wrote a proposal to the emperor Cao Rui, requesting the troops on leave to come back to aid him. Liu Shao thought that Man Chong should focus on defense and not engage the Wu troops. Cao Rui led an army to rescue Hefei, and according to Liu Shao's prediction that the enemy will retreat when they hear that the reinforcements had arrived. Cao Rui listened to Liu Shao’s suggestion and dispatched the vanguard army.

Cao Rui didn't listen to Man Chong as he felt that Xiangyang, Qishan and Hefei are three important locations for the Wei Kingdom. In July, after Quan's food supplies ran low, Cao Rui personally led an army to defend Hefei, forcing Zhuge Ji of Wu to withdraw. Man Chong used fire to destroy the Wu army’s engines of war, and killed Sun Quan’s nephew Sun Tai. Also, many Wu soldiers were infected with a disease and the reinforcements led by Cao Rui were arriving soon, hence Sun Quan ordered a retreat. Sun Shao’s troops also withdrew from Guangling and Huaiyin at the same time, and Lu Xun’s troops at Xiangyang also retreated afterwards. (This would be the first of two coordinated efforts made by allies Wu and Shu against Wei during the Three Kingdoms.)

Fifth battle

In 253, Zhuge Ke of Wu refused to listen to any advice and led 200,000 troops to attack the Wei Kingdom in March. In April, his troops had reached Huainan and by May, his troops were already surrounding Hefei. Zhuge Ke ordered an attack on Hefei, while the defending general of Hefei, Zhang Te, with 3000 troops, defended Hefei firmly for more than a month, which resulted in heavy casualties on both sides, but Hefei still remained in Wei control.

Zhang Te deceived Zhuge Ke with a cunning strategy and repaired the damaged city walls overnight. By the next day, Zhuge Ke discovered he had been tricked by Zhang Te, so he ordered an attack. However, the city was harder to attack now and the weather was becoming unbearable, and the Wu army had suffered heavy casualties and many were down with sickness. Zhuge Ke was furious with his failure to take down Hefei, so he blamed his subordinates and caused great frustration and discontentment among the Wu troops. Later, Sima Fu of Wei arrived with 200,000 reinforcement troops to Hefei, and attacked the exhausted Wu troops, achieving victory. In July, Zhuge Ke was forced to retreat back to Jiangdong.

Fictional events

In "Romance of the Three Kingdoms", Taishi Ci of Eastern Wu was killed in the third battle but in reality, he died of illness some years earlier.

The "Dynasty Warriors" video game series, dedicates two stages per game to the Battle of Hefei. One is named the "Battle of He Fei", which is the second battle mentioned here, and one is named the "Battle of He Fei Castle", which is the fourth battle here.


*Luo, Guanzhong "Romance of the Three Kingdoms"

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