Great Battles in Miniature


The Battle of Liegnitz was fought on April 9, 1241.  The Mongol forces that had conquered most of Asia and Russia were moving on Europe.  The main thrust was against Hungary and ended in memorable disaster for that nation.  The northern thrust into Poland has been viewed by many historians as a diversion in order to distract any reinforcements from that realm into Hungary.  The Mongol force met the Polish and Germans near the town of Liegnitz in Poland.  Despite the proclivity to honor the chivalry and righteous cause of the Western defenders the battle stands as a near monument to the military proficiency of the Mongol fighting machine, honed over decades of Asian conquest.  The battle is additionally colorful for the use of smoke screens to conceal troop movements.

The opposing forces:  The allied force had a mountedcenter, two supporting wings and a reserve force of mostly infantry.

The allied force was complemented by the Knights Templars in small numbers, but always eager for a battle.

The allied center.

The allied flanks.

The Mongol front and center composed of light cavalry horse archers.

The Mongol left flank.  Light cavalry.

The Mongol right flank.  Light cavalry in concealment.

The Mongol center reserve.  The heavy cavalry.

There are various accounts of the battle, both contemporary and modern.  According to one reconstruction the Mongols may well have used some undulation in the ground of the Polish plane to conceal their heavy cavalry reserve.

The battle began in usual fashion with the Mongols using their light cavalry to come forward and harass the more heavily armored and encumbered knights with archery, thereby goading them into a charge.

At this point the Mongols used a smokescreen to mask their heavy cavalry reserve.  The light cavalry withdrew before the European charge and vanished through the smoke.  The knights followed hard on their heels.  It is debatable just what this smoke was.  Some have suggested that it was setting fire to ground brush, others that it was an innovation discovered in decades of war with the technologically advanced Chinese and that it could have been delivered by catapult (also absorbed from the Chinese, or perhaps ignited from pre-placed "smudge pots."

Upon emerging from the smoke screen and crossing the hill the European force, tired on breathless horses having just charged a good way, is confronted with the fresh and numerous Mongol heavy cavalry as the Mongol light cavalry melts away to the flanks.

As the smoke clears, the Mongol heavies attack the knights who are then further harassed by the return of the light cavalry on their flanks.

Seeing their comrades engaged and hard pressed the allied flank and reserve cavalry move forward towards the melee.  The Mongol light cavalry flanking forces take advantage and move into position to flank the melee, one of them covered by an additional use of smoke screen.

The advance of the Templars

The Mongol advanced right flank, covered by smoke and about to go in.

Breaking through the cloud of smoke

The Mongol flanking forces closet against the rear as the European cavalry advance into the melee before them.

The allied supporting cavalry charge gloriously into the very unequal melee.

The allied infantry remain far behind the cavalry and are unable to weigh in against the enemy.

The charge of the Templars.  The reported losses of the Templars were actually quite small, especially compared with that of the other allied forces.  But we may assume that this martial host acquitted themselves courageously at some point before realizing the futility of the struggle.

The Mongol flanking cavalry closes in on the flanks and rear of the allies and brings the battle to a very unfortunate conclusion for the defending knights and me-at-arms.  Some escaped, many, including lords and nobles, were slain.  Upon destroying this force the Mongol cavalry moved against the hapless and unsupported European infantry inflicting further damage on those who remained on the field.