Battle of Dashan Plains (3)
“...because they are always hidden.”
--Cao Cao of the Three Kingdoms
Chapter 94 – Battle of Dashan Plains (3)
On the crest of victory, Marshal Gao Fang ordered a general advance to pursue the fleeing Wei troops. In the front, Du Fang laughed with glee and urged his horse to chase after them; dreaming of the honours and rewards that would be heaped on him after the battle was over. The Wu troops around him cheered lustily, each trying to outdo the other as they rushed forward.
But in the rear, Huang Ming was less optimistic. He went to his father who was surveying the battle together with his colleague Zhao Tong. The two veteran generals were shocked at the brittleness of the Wei troops and were wondering if they had erred in duping Marshal Gao Fang into positioning them in the rearguard.
“This won’t end well,” Huang Ming said quietly as he looked at a hundred thousand men gambling with their lives.
Huang Ke was startled by his brother’s comment. “What do you mean?”
“It’s such an obvious feint. Surely there will be a trap ahead, and the marshal’s army will be disrupted. How can he keep his command intact when his forces are strung out apart from each other?” Huang Ming explained dispassionately.
“So this is all a scheme?” Zhao Tong demanded.
Huang Ming shrugged. “This is a battle for Wei’s very survival, do you think Ran Wei is the sort that would just flee at the first sign of trouble?”
The stout general was unconvinced. “How much damage could one ambush do against a hundred thousand men?”
Huang Ming chuckled. “What makes you think there will be just one ambush?”
His father was aghast. “Then we need to warn them quickly! They must be told to pull back!”
“Pull back? Why would the marshal want to pull back when he’s ‘winning’?” Huang Ming asked cynically.
“I don’t care about that old fart, it’s the men that I’m worried about!” Huang Zheng roared emotionally.
“If you go to the marshal now, he will not only ignore you; but he will also seize the chance to punish you severely for disobeying his orders to stay put here,” Huang Ming warned.
“It’s a hundred thousand Wu soldiers out there, we must try to save them!”
Huang Ming saw that the distress in his father’s face was real; this was a true leader who would treat his men as if they were his own sons. But he shook his head to dash his father’s hopes.
“It’s impossible to stop the momentum of such a huge force. What you can do now is save the rearguard, and we have our own troops as well the entire baggage train to worry about. You must take charge and make preparations for an orderly retreat, and have Ah Ke and Sunli scout the way back to Tigertrap Pass. If I’m in Ran Wei’s shoes I would have sent orders for some Wei units to cut off our way back and attack this camp too,” he said.
“But what of Marshal Gao’s men?” Huang Zheng asked.
But Huang Ming merely shook his head, and the general sighed.
In the front, there was little evidence to support Huang Ming’s hypothesis. Not that the likes of Du Fang nor Marshal Gao would be interested to hear such talk. To them, Wei’s rout was an obvious display of cowardice. Some distance away Du Fang could see Marshal Gao’s vainly decorated chariot and his entourage struggling to keep up with his pace; and he smirked. There was no other officer nearby to steal the glory from him.
A sudden shout drew him back to his present situation.
“Ambush! Enemy soldiers on our left flank!”
Alarmed, Du Fang quickly took stock of the situation. When he saw the onrushing Wei ambush, he laughed impetuously; for he recognized its leader. It was Feng Liu, the first officer whom he had defeated earlier.
“Hah! Coming back for another beating?” Du Fang laughed derisively.
Feng Liu did not respond but merely levelled his spear at him. The Wei ambushers roared with ferocity and charged fearlesslytowards the Wu soldiers.
Du Fang raised a hand and was about to call for his unit to wheel about and face this oncoming threat. But before he could shout his commands, another warning shook his core.
“Ambush! Enemies to our right!”
Shocked, Du Fang turned to see yet another Wei force coming towards him. It was the nameless second officer that he had duelled.
“I am Feng Dan of Wei!” the officer yelled, and he too led his ambush unit towards Du Fang.
Du Fang panicked, for now he was caught in a pincer attack by the two Feng brothers. His men were scattered and out of position; they had rushed ahead and were out of formation to meet the twin attacks.
“Treacherous curs!” Du Fang hollered as Feng Liu and Feng Dan descended on him. He attempted to flee, but the spears of the Feng brothers soon took his life.
Leaderless and left on their own, Du Fang’s men were quickly cut to pieces by the double envelopment.
“What the devil is going on there?” Marshal Gao demanded as he squinted his eyes into the distance.
As if on cue, a gasping scout arrived. “Report! The Wei forces have laid an ambush, they have trapped Du Fang!”
“Trifling tricks,” Gao Fang sneered. “Take your troops and go crush this pathetic ambush!” he ordered one of his officers, lazily waving his marshal’s baton.
In his mind, the ambush merely demonstrated Wei’s incompetence. If they had waited a little longer, the ambush could have been inflicted on himself and the bulk of the Wu army. Instead; he thought that the ambush was launched prematurely and only caught Du Fang and his unit.
He was still gloating about it when another scout arrived. “Sir! Enemy unit at our right flank!”
Gao Fang’s eyes bulged. Then his shock faded when he saw that the attacking Wei force was quite small. Despite its size, the approaching Wei unit was carrying a large banner.
“What does that say?” Gao Fang demanded.
“Sir, that Wei force is lead by Ran Bing,” an officer answered.
“Ran Bing? Who is that?”
“I heard Ran Wei has a sister who is beautiful and warlike,” the officer replied.
Gao Fang’s interest was aroused. “Ran Wei must be truly desperate, are his officers so useless that he had to resort to this? Go capture her alive, I want to see this amazon myself!”
The officers saw the avaricious look on the marshal’s face, and they competed to fulfil the task as to win his favour. With much disorder, several officers broke away with their cavalry to capture Ran Bing. Gao Fang could see Ran Bing’s soldiers slowing down when they noticed the excessive response. Indeed, Ran Bing’s banner itself seem to waver uncertainly. A smile spread on Gao Fang’s face as Ran Bing turned away, pursued by the enthusiastic Wu officers.
“War is no business for women,” Gao Fang said condescendingly.
Another cry of alarm rocked the air.
“More Wei troops, at our left flank!”
“What? Do they have no other ideas besides petty ambushes?” Gao Fang snorted. “Take some men and deal with this nonsense!” he exclaimed, more in annoyance than anything.
“It’s Ran Wei! Ran Wei is attacking!”
Now that had Gao Fang’s full attention. He stood up in his chariot and parted the silk curtains to have a better view. Unlike the previous attempt by Ran Bing, this oncoming mass was much larger. It was a force of tens of thousands, with a large banner proudly proclaiming ‘Ran Wei’ in its midst.
The front ranks were entirely of horsemen, all wearing red sashes on their waists. At their head was a man who exuded a menacing aura as his armour gleamed in the midday sun. He wielded a halberd known as a ji: a spear with an additional crescent blade attached.
Who else could this man be but Ran Wei? After this battle, his name would be celebrated as ‘The Onslaught’.
“Charge!” he roared, and his troops shouted bloodthirstily. The horsemen rode full tilt towards Gao Fang in a wedge formation and the pounding of their hooves shook the earth.
“Block them! Block them!” Gao Fang shrieked. He glanced around wildly and saw that he only had infantrymen under his direct command. Most of his cavalry had been drawn away to pursue Ran Bing, and earlier on he had dispatched various forces to assist Du Fang.
Several of his more able officers took the initiative, screaming at the men to hold and extend their spears in a ‘porcupine’ formation, a standard counter against a cavalry charge. But it was too late, for Ran Wei’s attack was as swift as the wind.
The Wei horsemen crashed into the unprepared Wu soldiers and inflicted great damage. Then the Wei infantrymen arrived to exploit the breach, causing great slaughter to their dazed enemy. Screams filled the air and blood stained the earth, and Gao Fang saw that the Wei horsemen were still coming towards him.
Ran Wei himself was coming towards him!
The marshal was so stricken with fear that he struck his chariot driver with his baton.
“Get us out of here! Drive! Drive!”
“But sir! Your guards!” the driver exclaimed, pointing at Gao Fang’s personal bodyguards who were still around the chariot.
The marshal was enraged. “Damn you!” he screamed. He kicked the driver off and seized the reins; the horses neighed in protest as he whipped at them ferociously. Soon there were more shrieks and screams assaulting his ears, for he had forcibly drove his chariot over his own guards in his haste to escape. The limbs of the hapless men were ground into paste underneath his chariot’s wheels, and soon blood and viscera splattered its wheels and silk curtains.
Together with a handful of his mounted officers, Gao Fang fled in great confusion.
This was how Wu lost a hundred thousand men on the plains of Dashan.
The armies met in Dashan Plains,
Where Wei feigned retreat,
And Wu thought it was fun and games,
But it was all just to deceive.
Ran Wei the Onslaught,
His name was made that day,
For Gao Fang’s defeat did he wrought,
And the marshal was made to dearly pay.