Mongol Invasions: Battle of Legnica

Battle of Legnica
Public Domain

The Battle of Legnica was part of the 13th-century Mongol invasion of Europe.

Date

Henry the Pious was defeated on April 9, 1241.

Armies & Commanders

Europeans

  • Henry the Pious of Silesia
  • Unknown - estimates range from 2,000 to 40,000 men depending on the source

Mongols

  • Baidar
  • Kadan
  • Orda Khan
  • approximately 8,000 to 20,000 men

Battle Summary

In 1241, the Mongol ruler Batu Khan dispatched emissaries to King Béla IV of Hungary demanding that he turn over the Cumans that had sought safety within his realm. Batu Khan claimed the nomadic Cumans as his subjects as his troops had defeated them and conquered their lands. Following Béla's refusal of his demands, Batu Khan ordered his chief military commander, Subutai to begin planning for an invasion of Europe. A gifted strategist, Subutai sought to prevent the forces of Europe from uniting so that they could be defeated in detail.

Dividing the Mongol forces in three, Subutai directed two armies to advance on Hungary, while a third was sent further north to Poland. This force led by Baidar, Kadan, and Orda Khan was to raid through Poland with the goal of keeping Polish and northern European forces from coming to the aid of Hungary. Moving out, Orda Khan and his men rampaged through northern Poland, while Baidar and Kadan struck in the south. During the early parts of the campaign, they sacked the cities of Sandomierz, Zawichost, Lublin, Kraków, and Bytom. Their assault on Wroclaw was defeated by the city's defenders.

Reuniting, the Mongols learned that King Wenceslaus I of Bohemia was moving towards them with a force of 50,000 men. Nearby, Duke Henry the Pious of Silesia was marching to join with the Bohemians. Seeing an opportunity to eliminate Henry's army, the Mongols rode hard to intercept him before he could join with Wenceslaus. On April 9, 1241, they encountered Henry's army near present-day Legnica in southwest Poland. Possessing a mixed force of knights and infantry, Henry formed for battle with the mass of Mongol cavalry.

As Henry's men prepared for battle they were disconcerted by the fact that the Mongol troops rode into position in near silence, using flag signals to direct their movements. The battle opened with an attack by Boleslav of Moravia on the Mongol lines. Advancing in front of the rest of Henry's army, Boleslav's men were repulsed after the Mongols nearly surrounded their formation and peppered them with arrows. As Boleslav fell back, Henry sent forward two divisions under Sulislav and Meshko of Opole. Storming towards the enemy, their attack appeared successful as the Mongols began retreating.

Pressing their attack, they followed the enemy and in the process fell for one of the Mongol's standard battle tactics, the feigned retreat. As they pursued the enemy, a single rider appeared from Mongol lines yelling "Run! Run!" in Polish. Believing this warning, Meshko began falling back. Seeing this, Henry advanced with his own division to support Sulislav. The battle renewed, the Mongols again fell back with the Polish knights in pursuit. Having separated the knights from the infantry, the Mongols turned and attacked.

Surrounding the knights, they used smoke to prevent the European infantry from seeing what was happening. As the knights were cut down, the Mongols rode in on the infantry's flanks routing and killing the majority. In the fighting, Duke Henry was killed as he and his bodyguard tried to flee the carnage. His head was removed and placed on a spear which was later paraded around Legnica.

Aftermath

Casualties for the Battle of Legnica are not certain. Sources state that in addition to Duke Henry, the majority of the Polish and northern European troops were slain by the Mongols and his army eliminated as a threat. To count the dead, the Mongols removed the right ear of the fallen and reportedly filled nine sacks after the battle. Mongol losses are unknown. Though a crushing defeat, Legnica represents the farthest west Mongol forces reached during the invasion. Following their victory, a small Mongol force attacked Wenceslaus at Klodzko but was beaten off. Their diversionary mission a success, Baidar, Kadan, and Orda Khan took their men south to aid Subutai in the main assault on Hungary.

Source