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Medieval Vietnamese

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 2 months ago

Medieval Vietnamese 939 AD - 1527 AD (III/59)




1. Obstacles

2. Early non-gunpowder artillery

3. Add handgunners, correct the classification of artillery

4. Add ships

5. Reclassify later infantry


Author: Duncan Head


1. Obstacles




Earthworks and bamboo palisade fieldworks – TF @ 2AP 0-24

Stakes in river-bed or pits on land – Hidden Obstacle 0-24



Stakes planted in river-beds to trap and hole enemy ships at low water are recorded in the first battle of Bach-Dang against the Southern Han in 938 (Taylor; pp.267-270); to oppose the Northern Song crossing of the Nhu Nguyet river in 1077 (Phan pp.17; Barlow), and at Bach Dang again in 1288 where fields of stakes were planted in three separate branches of the river against a Yuan fleet (Phan p.51).


Phan's and Barlow's descriptions of the Dai Viet defensive lines at the Nhu Nguyet suggest that the defensive line behind the river-bank was composed of earthwork fortifications with more obstacles in front of them. Phan quotes Vietnamese annals saying that "ramparts and barricades" were built, and a Song author saying that the troops had to "break down and burn up many rows of bamboo barriers". What is not entirely clear is whether the "several rows of bamboo spikes" set up in front of the earthworks should be treated just as part of the TF palisades or as hidden obstacles. In 1407, Vietnamese defenders of Do-bang dug pits with hidden bamboo spikes outside the city walls as anti-cavalry traps (Sun Laichen p.11).



2. Early non-gunpowder artillery



Only before 1427:

Bolt-shooting giant crossbows Reg Art (O) or small stone-throwers Reg Art (I) 0-3



Phan (p.10) says that the Ly dynasty standing army that opposed the Song in the 1070s included catapults, and Barlow speaks of the Song embarking under catapult-fire (though whether he has any explicit source for this specific point other than Phan seems uncertain). The current Early Vietnamese list (Bk I/49) allows bolt-shooting engines based on an interpretation of projectile-head finds, and it would be surprising if such engines had disappeared after centuries of Chinese rule and constant contact with Chinese military science.


Ending the availability of these engines in 1426 fits with the provision in proposal 3 for more gunpowder artillery from 1427.



3. Handgunners and artillery




Only after 1350 AD:

Guns - Reg Art (S) @ 10AP 0-3




Only after 1300 AD:

Fire-lances – Reg Ps (X) 0-2


Only from 1390 AD to 1426 AD:

Handgunners - Reg Sh (I) (in DBM, Reg Art (X)) 2-6

Cannon – Reg Art (I) 0-1


Only from 1427 AD:

Handgunners - Reg Sh (I) (in DBM, Reg Art (X)) 4-12

Cannon or hand-hurled rockets – Reg Art (I) 1-4

Upgrade rockets to Chinese-style wheeled rocket-launchers – Reg Art (O) 0-2

Siege-towers – Reg WWg (S) 0-2

Counterweight trebuchets – Reg Art (S) 0-1


Delete from notes:

"Vietnamese artillery imported into China with instructors in 1410 was considered superior to Chinese."


Replace with:


Rules considerations:

1. WWg (S) and Art (S) can only be used if the enemy has PF.


In the body of the notes:

“Dai Viet troops used handguns in a sea-battle in 1390, and obtained more firearms in the 15th century, particularly after a victory over the Ming in 1426. Chinese reports of the superiority of Vietnamese guns refer to details of handgun and fire-lance construction, not artillery.”




Sun Laichen’s paper suggests that the idea that Vietnamese artillery was superior to Chinese is a mistaken interpretation of the sources. The Ming shi says:


“When it came to {the time of} Ming Chengzu, Jiaozhi {Dai Viet} was pacified, the techniques of magic gun and cannon (shenji qiangpao fa) were obtained, a Firearms Battalion (shenji ying) was especially established to drill {firearms}."


In fact, it appears that the Chinese copied from Vietnam only a few specific techniques, principally in handgun and fire-lance design. Heavy ironwood wadding behind the arrow of the fire-lance increased the pressure and thus the range; and this was adopted into Chinese handgun design. Vietnamese firearms generally were based on Chinese models and there is, in particular, no indication that Vietnamese cannon were heavier than or otherwise superior to Chinese types.


Fire-lances -

Fire-lances improved by the adoption of Dai Viet technology (hardwood wadding) were in Ming Chinese use by 1407. They shot up to 300 paces, and so might be classed the same as handguns rather than as Ps (X). But if Dai Viet was using the improved fire-lances soon after 1400, that suggests that more basic versions must have been in use for some time before that. Since I have not seen them mentioned in the context of the Yuan-Mongol campaigns in Vietnam, I suggest an arbitrary date of 1300.


Handguns -

By 1390, Dai Viet was apparently using handgunners aboard ship. The last great Cham king, Che Bong Nga, was killed in a naval battle by the fire of Vietnamese guns, and the term used (huochong) is, Sun suggests, more likely to refer to handguns than to artillery. The Vietnamese presumably first acquired handgun technology from China at some point before 1390, but when is so far unkown. Huochong were also used against Ming invaders in 1406-7; but the Vietnamese were outshot by the more numerous Chinese guns.


Later in the 15th century, some units (ve) had one out of five or six sub-units (so) armed with handguns and crossbows, but while this indicates that handguns were quite common it doesn't help much with working out exact numbers.


Artillery -

It is possible that Dai Viet may have obtained some cannon at an early date as well as handguns, and that some of the otherwise unspecified chong firearms used against the Ming invasion may have been artillery pieces, probably small; but it is not possible to be certain.


The Vietnamese army was using fire-lances, rocket-arrows (huojian), cannon (huopao; again possibly small guns, not necessarily Art (S) siege-guns), and siege-towers against the Ming defenders of Xuong-giang in 1427. Counterweight trebuchets (Xiangyang pao) were also built after Ming models. Many of these weapons seem to have been acquired from the Ming as spoils of Vietnamese victories after 1418, notably one in 1426 when most of the weapons of a 50,000-man army fell into Vietnamese hands. A "big cannon" is recorded in 1508, but otherwise there is no indication on what types of cannon were used.



4. Ships



War-junks – Irr Shp (O) or (S) {any foot} 0-4

Transports – Irr Shp (I) {any} 0-2




The only naval elements allowed in the current list are 0-4 boats. River-warfare with boats was important in earlier Vietnamese history and they are still often mentioned in Dai Viet's inland campaigns. However, there are also indications of maritime campaigns which would require larger ships.


- Campaigns against Champa using coastal fleets are recorded in Dai-Viet Su Ky Toan Thu at intervals from 982 onwards. In 1043 a fleet of several hundred war-vessels was built "with the names dragon, phoenix, fish, serpent, tiger, leopard and parrot" and transported the army down the coast (Bui etc p.25). This suggests several different classes of ship.


- In 1390 a Vietnamese fleet was able to defeat the Cham fleet of sea-going warships in a naval battle.


- Sun Laichen's article mentions ships being used in the 15th-century battles against the Ming; in 1407 at Ham-tu Pass both "numerous warships and river boats" are mentioned, indicating that "ships" actually does mean ships (in what appears to be at least partly a land battle).


- In the navy reorganised in 1428 each "general command" had ten large warships and two small sentry boats.


Types and numbers here are copied from the Sung Chinese list.



5. Later infantry







Jeffrey Barlow, "The Tang-Song Interregnum" Chapter 8 of "The Zhuang..." at http://mcel.pacificu.edu/as/resources/zhuang/zhuang8.htm


Bui Quang Tung and Nguyen Huong (trans.), Nguyen The Anh (ed.), Le Dai-Viet et ses Voisins: D’après le Dai-Viet Su Ky Toan Thu (Mémoires historiques du Dai-Viet au complet) (Éditions l’Harmattan, Paris, 1990)


Phan Huy Le et. al., Our Military Traditions, Vietnamese Studies No. 55, Hanoi (no date)


Sun Laichen, "Chinese Military Technology and Dai Viet, c.1390-1497", Asia Research Institute Working Paper No. 11, National University of Singapore (2003). Online at http://www.ari.nus.edu.sg/docs/wps/wps03_011.pdf


Taylor, Keith Weller, The Birth of Vietnam (University of California Press, 1983)

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