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The Mongols in Russia

The war in Ukraine is a reminder that there is nothing new under the sun ( Ecc. 1:9). This is because warfare in the region of Ukraine has been nearly constant for centuries.

Few people know, for example, that the Mongols under Genghis Khan conquered the Kievan Rus (now Ukraine) in the 13th Century and seriously threatened Muscovy (Russia) to the point that Muscovy was a client state of the Golden Horde. The Golden Horde (sometimes called Tartars) was an off shoot of the Mongol armies that eventually established a huge empire ranging from China and Korea in the east, to the plains of Hungary in the West. The below map shows the Mongol Empire after it splintered into four individual Khanates.

http://By Los Angeles County Museum of Art – [1], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1569183

Alexander Nevsky is a famous Russian\Ukrainian hero who fended off Swedish and Teutonic invaders but also paid tribute to the Golden Horde. That made Muscovy a client state of the Golden Horde for a long time.

This does not mean that the Russians and Ukrainians are one and the same people, but to show that for centuries these Slavic peoples had much in common and were no strangers to warring against foreign invaders and among themselves.

All that to say, knowing a little about Russian\Ukrainian history does help to put the current conflict into a bit of a historical perspective.

The Golden Horde background was the setting for our latest wargame. My friend (JZ) and I have an interest in the history of what we portray in a game; although the game is for fun and in no way glorifies the actual horrors of war. For us, painting and researching the model soldiers, building a terrain board, playing a game with easy to follow rules is a past-time that involves far more than an electronic wargame or PC simulation.

Mongol Heavy Cavalry by JZ

Our latest game involved my Muscovite\Kievan (Ukrainian-take your pick, medieval army versus an early Golden Horde army that consisted primarily of Mongol allies or subject peoples that included Koreans and Chinese. The game was remarkably colorful.

Chinese and Korean Cavalry by JZ

The armies of the time (post the original Mongol Invasion under Genghis) mostly consisted of cavalry of various types. For both sides, heavy cavalry were common, as well as horse archers, although the Mongols favored light horse archers more so than the Russians. Infantry were often present in the battles but took a secondary role. The Russians who were usually defending were more apt to field infantry drawn from their city militias.

Russian City Militia by JZ

As an added twist that says something about the politics of the time, you could find Russians on the Mongol side and Mongols on the Russian side, as each pursued their own interests at the expense of any kind of national unity, since little of that really existed. Loyalty had more to do with the local warlord than it did with princes, kings or khans. A rare leader could unify contingents in a loose alliance but once that battle was over it would be back to petty squabbling among themselves.

The game featured Russians are both sides (figs by JZ and BR)

Our game was a bit of a hodgepodge in that regard as Russian units were present on both sides; although my force was exclusively Russian.

The general idea of the game was the Russians were constructing a watch post on a small fort with a watch tower in order to protect the the village that was part of a larger Russian city, not too far distant from the village. The garrison of city militia has managed to construct some light fortifications but have yet to erect the watch tower, although their scouts have been active patrolling the fluid border.

A Mongol led army consisting mostly of allied or coerced troops have been spotted. Their intent is to knock down the outpost and pillage the near-by village for loot and slaves. The Russians send for reinforcements that consist of the mustered levy of cavalry led by the local Dvor (nobles). The pictures below will tell some of the story. The rules we use are Lion Rampant (Osprey Publications) by Dan Mersey.

Russian City Militia man the crude fort. The unit consists of equal proportions of crossbowmen and spearmen. As we will soon see, the militia held out quite long but did little damage to the enemy. A good wargamer always blames the dice!
Russian skirmisher scouts from the village.
A second unit of Russian City Militia emerged from the village to support the first unit within the fortification. They were not equipped with crossbowmen and so could only occupy ground but never really threaten the Chinese or Korean horse archers to their front.
This is another unit of Russian City Militia although they are on the other side! As noted earlier, units that do not have supporting missile units are at great disadvantage in eastern warfare. While very useful in holding ground or forts, when caught on open ground they are susceptible to being shot to pieces. This unit merged unscathed, traitors though they are!
The Mongols fielded a small unit of foot archer skirmishers no doubt upset that they are on foot. That’s what you get for losing your horse!
The elite of the Mongol allied army-a unit of Mongol heavy cavalry lancers.
The Mongol heavy cavalry would eventually over run the Russian fort after the Russian infantry fled having taken many casualties from the horse archer units tormenting them.
Russian reinforcements were late to the scene, but this heavy horse archer unit arrived first. Figs by BR.
Chinese Cavalry by JZ
Russian Dvor or Boyar (Nobles) make their appearance. Figs by BR
Russian lesser Boyars charge a unit of Korean skirmish cavalry but to little avail as they evade to get behind the traitorous Russian City Militia behind them in support. Figs by BR and JZ
Beautifully painted Korean Infantry. Figs by JZ
Chinese Heavy Cavalry by JZ
Russian lesser Boyars. Figs by BR.
Overview of the battle as all the units are now present on the field.

The Russian City Militia in the fort managed to hold out against the horse archers that nearly surrounded them. They finally broke having taken 2\3 casualties. The Russian right two units of Dvor and one of lesser Boyar) drove back the Russians on the Mongol left and nearly managed a breakthrough only to lose their leader causing an army morale check. Four of six units lost morale had to fall back and although rallied the pause was fatal. By then the fort at fallen and the center of the Russian line breached. The remaining Russian City Militia would be helpless from the horse archers. The Russian commander (me) who took over after the real leader was killed. I ordered the Dvor and remaining cavalry to abandon the infantry and village and retire to the walls of the city. It was a harsh decision but it was better than Dvor being captured and tortured by the Mongols and their allies!

The figures used in the game were 1\72 plastic. The manufacturer’s were Strelets, a Ukrainian company, Zvezda, a Russian company, Red Box (Ukrainian) and a few Italeri (Italy based but absorbing smaller companies of various origins).

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