Mengchong (Ancient Speed Boat)

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The Mengchong (Méngchōng; lit. “covered assaulter”) was a leather-covered assault warship used in the 2nd and 3rd Centuries in China. One of its most famous uses was in the naval battle of Red Cliffs in late 208 or early 209, in which the Eastern Wu commander Zhou Yu ordered Huang Gai to use a group of the ships loaded with flammable material in a fire attack on the navy of Cao Cao. It also saw later use in the navies of the Sui and Tang Dynasties.

Mengchong was a kind of speed boat in ancient China. In the Battle of Red Cliff, Zhou Yu ordered Huang Gai to fully load firewood on mengchong and doujian, which were spread with oil on the surface. Covered by curtain, the boats were heading northward down the wind in full sail; the boats loaded with burning firewood rushed straightforward to Cao Cao’s military camp, winning the victory by fire attacking. [translation]

During the confrontation of the Three Kingdoms in China, The Battle of Red Cliffs acted as a decisive battle, which took place in 208 A.D. between the allied forces of the southern warlords Liu Bei (the Kingdom of Shu) and Sun Quan (the Kingdom of Wu), and the northern warlord, Cao Cao (the Kingdom of Wei). It is also a classic battle in Chinese history famous for the fewer and weaker defeating the more and stronger.

After the Duke of Wei, Cao Cao had controlled all of the North China Plain, he led the troop of 800.000 soldiers to south aiming to eliminate his main southern rivals swiftly and unify China. Meanwhile, Zhou Yu and Lu Su, the generals of Wu and Zhuge Liang of Shu accurately analyzed the situation and disadvantages of Cao army, including its unstable rear supply despite of the claimed 800 thousand soldiers, exhausting expedition and inexperience in water battle, and developed their strategy of confronting the army.

There were altogether 50,000 soldiers, including 30,000 trained naval soldiers led by Zhou Yu, the general of Wu and others led by Liu Bei of Shu organized to confront the Cao army. Since Cao Cao’s troop was already decimated by seasickness and lack of water experience, it lost control in battle effectiveness and had to camp northern of the Yangtze River with the Wu and Shu troops in the south. Later Cao Cao ordered to chain his entire fleet together with strong iron chains to drill the navy. Zhou Yu then adopted Huang Gai’s plan of an attack that he pretended to surrender to Cao Cao and got the chance to get close to Cao’s fleet and attacked Cao Cao with fire ships. Cao Cao simply assumed that superiority in number would eventually defeat the Wu and Shu navy and gave Huang Gai the chance to approach his fleet. This eventually brought the debacle of his fleets, which were intruded by Huang Gai’s boats with all firewood ignited at the same time. The Cao army became a sea of fire immediately, which extended to the camps on bank and caused decisive damage of the army. Zhou Yu and others seized the opportunity and chased the Cao force along the way and successfully beat it. Cao Cao had to flee with the remaining troops. The ally then chased to enlarge their victory.

The decisive Battle of Red Cliffs was brought to an end under the background that Cao Cao held the favorable position but underestimated his enemy and made the wrong decision that led to his defeat. During the battle, Sun and Liu allied to repel the strong enemy, leveraged their advantage in water battle and adopted the fire attack to finally defeat the stronger with the weaker. The battle laid the foundation for the confrontation of the latter three kingdoms, Wei, Shu and Wu.

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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