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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

The flotilla from Korea appeared off Tsushima


But before launching this formidable host, Kublai made a final effort to compass his end without fighting. In 1280, he sent another embassy to Japan, announcing the complete overthrow of the Sung dynasty, and summoning the Island Empire to enter into friendly relations. Kamakura's answer was to order the execution of the envoys at the place where they had landed, Hakata in Chikuzen. Nothing now remained except an appeal to force. A weak point in the Yuan strategy was that the two armadas were not operated in unison. The Korean fleet sailed nearly a month before that from China. It would seem that the tardiness of the latter was not due wholly to its larger dimensions, but must be attributed in part to its composition. A great portion of the troops transported from China were not Mongols, but Chinese, who had been recently fighting against the Yuan, and whose despatch on a foreign campaign in the service of their victors suggested itself as a politic measure. These men were probably not averse to delay and certainly cannot have been very enthusiastic.

In May, 1281, the flotilla from Korea appeared off Tsushima. Unfortunately, the annals of medieval Japan are singularly reticent as to the details of battles. There are no materials for constructing a story of the events that occurred on the Tsushima shores, more than six centuries ago. We do not even know what force the defenders of the island mustered. But that they were much more numerous than on the previous occasion, seven years before, is certain. Already, in 1280, Tokimune had obtained from Buddhist sources information of the Mongol preparations--preparations so extensive that the felling of timber to make ships inspired a Chinese poem in which the green hills were depicted as mourning for their trees--and he would not have failed to garrison strongly a position so cardinal as the midchannel island of Tsushima. It was not reduced. The enemy were able to effect a lodgement, but could not overrun the island or put its defenders to the sword, as had been done in 1274. The Korean ships remained at Tsushima awaiting the arrival of the Chinese flotilla. They lost three thousand men from sickness during this interval, and were talking of retreat when the van of the southern armada hove in sight. A junction was effected off the coast of Iki island, and the garrison of this little place having been destroyed on June 10th, the combined forces stood over towards Kyushu and landed at various places along the coast of Chikuzen, making Hakozaki Bay their base.

Such a choice of locality was bad, for it was precisely along the shores of this bay that the Japanese had erected fortifications. They were not very formidable fortifications, it is true. The bushi of these days knew nothing about bastions, curtains, glacis, or cognate refinements of military engineering. They simply built a stone wall to block the foe's advance, and did not even adopt the precaution of protecting their flanks. But neither did they fall into the error of acting entirely on the defensive. On the contrary, they attacked alike on shore and at sea. Their boats were much smaller than those of the invaders, but the advantage in dash and daring was all on the side of the Japanese. So furious were their onsets, and so deadly was the execution they wrought with their trenchant swords at close quarters, that the enemy were fain to lash their ships together and lay planks between them for purposes of speedy concentration. It is most improbable that either the Korean or the Chinese elements of the invading army had any heart for the work, whereas on the side of the defenders there are records of whole families volunteering to serve at the front. During fifty-three days the campaign continued; that is to say, from June 23rd, when the first landing was effected, until August 14th, when a tornado swept off the face of the sea the main part of the Yuan armada.


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