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Mongol Invasions: Battle of Mohi

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Conflict & Date:

The Battle of Mohi was fought on April 11, 1241, and was part of the Mongol Invasions of Europe.

Armies & Commanders:

Kingdom of Hungary

  • King Bela IV
  • approx. 80,000 men

Mongols

  • Batu Khan
  • Subutai
  • approx. 70,000 men

Battle of Mohi Overview:

Following their defeat at the Kalka River in 1223, the Cumans fled westward and sought protection in the Kingdom of Hungary. As the Hungarians had been working to convert the Cumans for several years, King Béla IV granted them protection and allowed them to settle in his lands. Over the next several years, Béla became increasingly unpopular with his nobles due to his reversal of land donations and his siding with the Cumans in disputes. Thus, it was a weakened king who received a demand from the Mongols in 1241, that the Cumans be turned over to them.

Believing the Cumans to be their slaves as they had defeated them in battle and taken their lands, the Mongols approached Hungary in three columns. One attacked to the north and defeated Duke Henry II the Pious of Silesia at Liegnitz in Poland. A second column moved south into Transylvania, while Batu Khan led the main army towards the Hungarian heartland. Moving through the Verecke Pass, Batu Kahn badly defeated a Hungarian force sent to hold the gap. Mobilizing his army, Béla ordered it to concentrate at Pest. He was aided in his efforts by the Duke of Austria and Styria, Frederick II Babenberg.

As mobilization commenced, riots occurred between the Hungarians and Cumans. These led to the Cumans refusing to fight and moving off to the south. As a result, many Hungarian units failed to reach Pest as they dealt with renegade Cuman warriors and the lead elements of the Mongol invasion. Béla's efforts were also hampered by his prior behavior which led several nobles to ignore his call for mobilization. On March 15, the Mongols reached Pest and began sacking the area. Unprepared for battle, Béla forbade his men to attack them.

Ignoring the king's orders, Duke Frederick moved forward and defeated a small raiding party, making the king look like a coward. Ugrin Csák, the archbishop of Kalocsa, also led an attack, but was defeated after being lured into a swamp. Feeling his work was done, Frederick returned home. By the time Béla was prepared for battle, the Mongols had begun withdrawing to the east. Following with his army, Béla's troops reached the flooded River Sajó after a week of forced marches. Constructing a fortified camp from their wagons, the Hungarians were unaware that the main Mongol army was formed across the river.

On April 10, an escaped Mongol slave arrived in the Hungarian camp and warned them of a night attack across the nearby bridge over the Sajó. Still believing that the Mongols were only raiding in force, the Duke of Slavonia, Ugrin, and a Templar master led a body of Hungarian troops to the bridge. Arriving at midnight, they surprised a Mongol column and forced a battle. Fighting in the darkness, they defeated the Mongols and inflicted heavy casualties with their crossbows. Leaving a guard at the bridge, the Hungarians returned to their camp to celebrate.

Adjusting his plans, Batu Khan decided on a three-prong attack for the next day. Sejban was dispatched north with a small force to ford the river and attack the rear of the bridge guard, while Batu Khan advanced directly across the bridge. Subutai moved south with a large force to build a bridge across the river and attack the Hungarian flank. Moving forward around 4:00 AM, Batu Khan assaulted the bridge with seven stone throwers and began pushing across the span. The arrival of Sejban caused the Hungarians to flee back to their camp.

Alerted to the Mongol approach, the Duke, Ugrin, and the Templar master sortied to assess the situation. Stunned by the size of the Mongol horde, they returned to bring up the main army. Reaching camp they were angered to find that Béla had not prepared the troops for battle. This delay allowed Batu Khan to finish crossing the river. Finally arriving on the battlefield, the main Hungarian force clashed with the Mongols and a brutal pitched battle ensued. Pressed against the river, the Mongols were unable to maneuver and were outnumbered by Béla's army.

Taking heavy losses, Batu Khan was rescued by the arrival of Subutai's troops from the south. Having crossed the river, they struck the Hungarian flank and rear, causing them break and retreat. Rallying at their camp, they were nearly surrounded by Batu Khan's men by afternoon. After a number of sorties failed and being peppered with flaming arrows, the Hungarian army began to flee. Attacking at Subutai's behest, the Mongols inflicted severe casualties. In the rout, Ugrin was killed and the Duke mortally wounded.

Aftermath

The defeat at Mohi cost the Hungarians majority of their army and left the country open to the Mongols. While Mongol losses were high, they pressed on and ravaged much of central Hungary. Regrouping with his remaining troops, Béla hoped to stop the Mongols at the Danube, but was unable to block a crossing when the river froze that winter. Fleeing to Austria, he was taken prisoner by Duke Frederick who extorted a heavy ransom, including three of Hungary's westernmost counties. Escaping southwest, the king took refuge at Trogir on the Dalamatian coast. While resistance continued in Hungary, the Mongols only departed after learning of the death of Ogotai Khan. The death of the Great Khan required the princes to be present for the election of a successor and the Mongols withdrew to the east.

Selected Sources

  1. About.com
  2. Education
  3. Military History
  4. Conflicts & Battles
  5. Battles & Wars: 1201-1400
  6. Battle of Mohi - Mongol Invasions Battle of Mohi

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