Military Review

Battle of Nagashino: infantry against horsemen


It just so happened that by the end of the 1551th century. all of Japan was engulfed in a brutal civil war. Large local clans, led by their princes, the daimyo, did just that, fighting each other, trying to get more land, rice and influence. In this case, the old tribal nobility was supplanted by a new one, which sought strength and influence with a sword in hand. Old clans went into oblivion, and new ones rose. So the Oda clan was first subordinate to the Shiba clan, the shugo family (eg. "Protector", "defender") - the post of the military head of the province in the Kamakur and Muromat shogunates in Japan of the 1560th-25th centuries. In Western historiography it is often translated as “military governor”) from Owari, but managed to seize power from him in the province while the head of the Shiba clan was in Kyoto, and in the turmoil of the Onin war. First, the father of Oda Nabunaga became the feudal ruler in Owari. But Nobunaga himself took power from him in 1575, when he was seventeen years old. In XNUMX, an influential local daimyo Imagawa Yoshimoto with a XNUMXth army attacked Owari from Mikawa province, counting on the youth of Oda. He, with only three thousand soldiers, met him in a gorge near Okekhadzam, caught by surprise and ... killed! Having consolidated his power, he put an end to the Ashikaga shogunate and fought for a long time with Takeda Shingen, another such fighting general who stood in his way. Several times they fought each other in Kawanakajima, on the border of their possessions, but none of them managed to deliver a fatal blow to the other. After Shingen’s death, his son Katsuyori inherited his father’s lands and hatred of Oda. He became an influential daimyo and in June XNUMX he answered the ousted shogun Asikaga Yoshiaki to his call to destroy Nobunaga that he would do so, and led his army to the borders of Mikawa province, where the then-young Tokugawa Ieyasu (who was called Matsudaira Motoyasu before) controlled the lands Nobunaga. Ieyasu sent a request for help to Nobunaga. He immediately moved his troops and ... and so it happened historical battle of Nagashino.

The heroic deed of Torii Sunymone at the walls of Nagashino castle. Uki-yo artist Toehara Tikanobu.

Meanwhile, Katsuyori first sent his troops to Nagashino castle, which stubbornly defended one of the closest to Ieyasu. The castle was besieged, but he failed to take it, and meanwhile the army of Oda-Tokugawa was already close and set up camp in Sitaragahara, although it did not attack the army of Takeda Katsuri, and began to build field fortifications. Fearing a possible attack from the rear, Takeda Katsuyuri nevertheless neglected the advice of his advisers to retreat before their numerically superior enemy, and first removed the siege from Nagashino castle, and then set up his army on the plain of the Gatanda river facing the enemy army in Sitaragahara.

The battle that went down in history.

Why is this battle in Japanese history so prominent? How did the Allied forces manage to crush Takeda's “invincible” cavalry? Is the battle in Kurosawa's famous film “Kagemusa” faithfully shown? Was the participation in the battle of arquebusiers, hidden behind the palisade, a fundamentally new tactic? Specialists in the Edo period often exaggerate the role of the Tokugawa troops in this battle, thus glorifying his future shogunate, which is why their affirmations should not be taken for granted. When a scrupulous study of the historical document, compiled by the approximate Nobunaga Ota Guiti, the picture is somewhat different. What the Englishman Stephen Turnbull and the Japanese Mitsuo Kure wrote about in their studies.

Let's start from the battlefield. At Sitaragahara, where the Rengogawa River flowed in a valley between steep hills and where the 15-thousandth army of Takeda fought with the 30-thousandth army of Oda-Tokugawa. At that time, the Takeda army was considered stronger, so the Oda-Tokugawa warlords, despite their numerical superiority, decided to take a defensive position. The order was given and with Japanese thoroughness executed: before the position ditches were dug out and bamboo lattices were installed, protecting archers, spearmen with long spears and arquebusiers.

Modern reconstruction of the Battle of Nagashino. Arkebusier on the battlefield.

Arquebusier or fortifications?

It used to be thought that in this battle on the side of the Allied forces, three thousand Arquebusier shooters participated, but in the course of recent research it was possible to find out that there were less than one and a half thousand. Indeed, the source documents have the number 1000, and there is evidence that later someone sent it to 3000. However, it is clear that in the army of 15000 people such a number of shooters can not be decisive! In 1561, two thousand arquebusiers served Otomo Sorin in Kyushu, and Nobunaga himself, when in 1570, he declared war on the Miyoshi clan, with Saiga consisted of two or three thousand guns. Of course, the Arquebusiers were also in the Takeda army, but for some reason they didn’t give her any serious fire support in the battle of Sitaragahara.

Oda Nabunaga. Old Japanese woodcut.

A common myth says that the cavalry of Takeda galloped off to the positions of the allied forces and was literally mowed down by arquebus. At the end of the Heian period and in the Kamakura period, horse-drawn samurai with bows really made up the bulk of the troops, but with the advent of gunshot weapons commanders began to use riders in battle in a different way, precisely to protect them from the fire of arquebusiers. By the time the Battle of Sitaragahara took place (as Japan is often called the Battle of Nagashino), the Japanese samurai were already accustomed to fighting on foot, using the support of the ashigaru infantry. The numerous cavalry attacks shown in the Kurosawa film were simply impossible in real life. At the very least, it can be said with confidence that after the first unsuccessful attack, Takeda warlords would have realized that the earth that had become limp after a night rain was not suitable for a cavalry attack. But then, why did the Takeda army fail?

Battle of Nagashino: infantry against horsemen

Oda Nabunaga armor.

Fortifications against infantry

The topographical features of the battlefield at Sitaragahara are as follows: a river, or rather a large stream flowing through the marshy lowland from north to south. On the banks of its left and right stretched a strip of narrow and level floodplain, behind it began quite steep hills. On its own, that is, on the west bank, the Oda and Tokugawa troops built as many as three lines of various field fortifications: moats, earthen ramparts poured from the ground taken out during construction, and wooden palisades-gratings. Excavations in the area have shown that in a short time the Allies managed to build truly enormous fortifications.

The Golden Umbrella is the standard of Oda Nabunaga and his three-coin flag nobori, Eiraku Zuho (eternal happiness through wealth).

Mon Oda Nabunaga

Mon Ieyasu Tokugawa

Allied army soldiers were strictly forbidden to leave positions and rush towards the enemy. The combined forces of the Allies, armed with bows, rifles with wick locks and long spears, were on these fortifications and were awaiting the attack on Takeda. And it began with the attack of the “sappers”, who were supposed to drag bamboo lattices with iron cats, and to protect themselves from fire, they used tate shields. And here they were swept away by the arquebus, volley, so that they could not even reach the paling on the slippery swampy ground. But the next chain of attackers to the first stockade did break through and managed to knock it down. But this didn’t bring them any joy, since they faced a second obstacle - the moat. The attacks of Takeda warriors went one after another, but the brave souls were destroyed in parts, and the ditches had to be overcome literally over the corpses. Many were killed while attempting to bring down the second stockade, after which the exhausted Takeda soldiers finally gave a signal for retreat. The myth of the invincible army Takeda dispelled over the moats of Sitaragahara, filled with the bodies of the dead.

Battle of Nagashino. Painted screen.

Action arcuzeu. Fragment of a screen.

Why did Takeda Katsuyori decide to get involved in this massacre? And the Oda and Tokugawa army forced him to this, as it threatened its rear. Well, Katsuyori himself was still too young and was too sure of his magnificent army. In addition, the Allies were able to kill all the ninja Takeda scouts before they had time to report to him about the depth of the defensive fortifications; besides, the fog characteristic of the rainy season did not give an opportunity to examine them from afar. Katsuyori should have abandoned a frontal attack on such strong fortifications of the enemy. Remembering the time of year, he could lay low for a day or two and wait for a heavy downpour that would destroy all the firearms of the Allies. The old Takeda vassals, who were still at war with his father, Takeda Shingen, tried to dissuade him from starting a battle on such terms, but Katsuyuri did not listen to them. After the military council, one of the commanders stated that he had no other way out than to attack, obeying the order.

Death by the samurai Baba Minonokami bullet. Uki-yo artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

What was the most important lesson for Nagashino for the Japanese? Almost commonplace truth: no army can break through the positions of an adversary that was previously fortified and properly defended, having, moreover, a numerical superiority. Neither Oda Nobunaga, nor Toyotomi Hideyoshi, nor Tokugawa Ieyasu or Takeda Katsuyori made any mention of the particularly effective use of the arquebus, since concentrated fire was not a novelty for Japanese tacticians.

Reconstruction of the fence at the site of the Battle of Nagashino.

Ingenuity and tradition

And in our time it was hypothesized that even before the first arquebus in 1543 came to Japan, pirates and merchants had already brought here a lot of guns with a wick lock. The mid-16th century Arquebus was a heavy and rather primitive example of a smooth-bore firearm, although lighter than a musket. She had a range of real fire no more than 100 m, and then for a fairly large target - such as a human figure or a horseman on a horse. On a windless day from the thick smoke when shooting arquebuzir was forced to cease fire. Recharging them required a lot of time, about half a minute, which in the conditions of a battle at close range could be considered a fatal factor, because the same rider could easily have gone a long distance during that time. In the rain, the arquebus could not shoot at all. But be that as it may, in just a few years Japan has become the largest exporter of rifles in Asia. The main centers of production arkebuz were Sakai, Negoro and Omi. And they also supplied detachments of mercenaries armed with arquebus. But the Japanese didn’t manage to produce good powder because of the absence of nitrate, and they had to import it from abroad.

Takeda Katsuyori Monument in Yamanashi Prefecture.

The appearance of the foot soldiers of ashigaru and the increase in cases of massive hand-to-hand fighting have changed all the traditional ideas of the Japanese about the war. The era of the ceremonial commencement of battles ended with cheers, the enumeration of the merits of their ancestors in the face of the enemy and whistling arrows, and the soldiers at the height of the battle stopped moving away to resolve personal disputes. Since the samurai’s body was protected by solid armor, weapons such as a spear took on special significance, and swords were resorted to only as a last resort. However, the art of the archer was still in the price. The Arquebusiers were not able to oust the archers from the Japanese army; therefore, their troops fought side by side; in terms of firing range, these two types of weapons were comparable, and the rate of onions exceeded the rate of fire of the arquebus. The warriors, armed with arquebuses, bows, and spears, formed a united force, which was led by samurai. It would be wrong to believe that the Japanese methods of warfare completely transformed the emergence of firearms: it was only one of many factors under the influence of which the process was going on.

Nobunaga was a talented commander, but did not know that the king was made by his retinue. He was rude to his subordinates, and once with all he hit his General Aketi Mitsuhide. He decided to take revenge and betrayed him, forcing him to commit seppuku, though he himself eventually died. Uki-yo artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Interestingly, the Japanese, who practically did not change anything in the design of the guns themselves, created many original devices for them. For example, lacquered rectangular cases, worn on the breech of the arquebus, and the pilot holes protecting them, and wicks from the rain. Finally, they came up with unique "ammunition", significantly accelerated the shooting of the arquebus. European musketeers, as is known, kept the powder in the 12 “charge trainers”, which had the appearance of a leather or wooden tube with a lid, inside which was a pre-measured powder charge. The Japanese made these tubes wooden and ... through, with a tapered hole in the bottom. A round bullet was inserted into this hole and sealed it, after which gunpowder poured on top of it.

When loading, the tube was opened (and these tubes, like the Europeans, were hung on a shoulder strap by the Japanese ashigaru), turned over and the powder spilled into the barrel. Then the shooter pressed the bullet and pushed it into the barrel after the gunpowder. The European was to get into a bag on his belt for a bullet, which lengthened the loading process for a few seconds, so the Japanese fired from their arquebuses about one and a half times more often than the Europeans from their muskets!

Torii Sunemon - Nagashino hero

The names of the heroes of the Battle of Nagashino in the bulk remained unnamed for the history, since so many people fought there. Of course, the Japanese know some of those who fought bravely there. However, the most famous among them was not the one who killed the most enemies, but the one who showed himself to be an example of samurai perseverance and loyalty to his duty. This man was called Torii Sun'emon, and his name was even immortalized in the name of one of the stations of the Japanese railway.

And it was that when Nagashino castle was besieged, it was Torii Sunyamon, the 34-year-old samurai from Mikawa province, who volunteered to deliver a message about his plight to the Allied army. At midnight on June 23, he quietly got out of the castle, descended a steep cliff in the dark to the Toykawa River, and, after undressing, swam downstream. Half way down, he found that the prudent Takeda samurai were stretching across the river. Sunamon cut a hole in the net and thus managed to avoid it. On the morning of June 24, he climbed Mount Gumbo, where he lit the signal fire, thus informing the people besieged in Nagashino about the success of his enterprise, after which he headed to Okazaki Castle, which was located 40 kilometers from Nagashino, with maximum speed.

Samurai shows his master the head of the enemy. Engraving Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Meanwhile, both Oda Nabunaga and Ieyasu Tokugawa just waited to speak as quickly as possible, and Torii Sun'emon came to them and said that the provisions in the castle remained only for three days, and then his Mr. Okudaira Sadamasa would commit suicide in order to save the lives of their soldiers. In response, Nobunaga and Ieyasu told him that they would perform the next day and sent him back.

This time Torii lit three bonfires on Mount Gumbo, informing his comrades that help was close, but then tried to return to the castle by the same road that he came to. But the samurai Takeda also saw his signal lights, and found a hole in the net, across the river, and now they tied bells to it. When Sunemon began to cut her, the bell rang, they grabbed him and led him to Takeda Katsuyuri. Katsuyori promised to save his life, if only Sunemon comes out to the gate of the castle and says that the help will not come, and he agreed to do it. But then what happened, is described in different sources in different ways. In some of them, Torii Sunimon was put on the bank of the river opposite the castle, from where he shouted that the army was already on the way, called on the defenders to hold on to the last, and was immediately pierced with spears. Other sources report that he was tied to a cross before that, and after his words they left it on the cross in front of the castle. In any case, such a courageous act led to the admiration of both friends and enemies, so that one of the samurai of Takeda even decided to portray him, crucified upside down, on his banner.

Here is this flag with the image of the crucified Torii Sunymona.

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  1. parusnik
    parusnik 15 September 2016 07: 12
    The numerous cavalry attacks featured in the Kurosawa movie were simply impossible in real life.
    .. But it’s beautiful .. and how it looks .. But then it’s a movie .. and for that we love him ... Although by and large, somewhere around 99 percent .. films shot on a historical theme by world cinema .. this or that part is pseudo-historical .. Filmmakers follow the principle: If you remove all the lies from the story, this does not mean that only the truth remains, that nothing can remain at all ... Thank you Vyacheslav, a very interesting article ..
  2. mishastich
    mishastich 15 September 2016 08: 58
    Dear author, tell me why the Japanese did not use shields?
    1. kalibr
      15 September 2016 12: 26
      The sword was held with two hands and shot from large bows. Inconveniently! Therefore, the shields remained only easel - tate. In addition, the large shoulders of soda on the o-ora armor partly served as shields.
  3. oleggun
    oleggun 15 September 2016 13: 03
    Thank you! Very interesting!
  4. matros lom
    matros lom 18 September 2016 02: 05
    Thanks to the author! I read your articles with constant interest.