Chongchon, North Korea (612 AD)
The Battle of Salsu is arguably the most famous battle in Korean history prior to the modern era, as well as one of the most unique victories ever achieved anywhere ever. The engagement, which pitted a small army of Goguryeo (Korea) against a massive invading force from neighboring Sui (China), witnessed what might have been the greatest use of terrain in history. The tremendous victory of Goguryeo came not from strength of numbers, but from the creation and destruction of a dam which resulted in huge losses for the invaders from drowing. The site of the battle, along what is now the Chongchon River, is held as a historic site of great significance by North and South Koreans alike.
In 589 AD, the Sui Dynasty had effectively united all of China under emperor Wen. The Sui then turned their attention outside of their borders, their prime target being the Korean peninsula. Ordering the various kingdoms of Korea to submit to imperial authority, one of them, Goguryeo, refused. This led to the Goguryeo-Sui War. An initial expedition was disastrously defeated by an unexpectedly tenacious defense as well as bad weather.
In 612 the Sui prepared a massive invasion force, reputedly of over one million men. Crossing into Korea, they again met fierce resistance, but slowly pushed their way southwards. Due primarily to terrible military leadership, the Sui attempted but failed to take several key fortresses. At the same time, the Sui navy landed a force at Pyongyang, but was unable to take it.
After a few months of stalemate, the Sui commander decided to abandon his efforts against the fortresses and march the bulk of his army south to aid in the siege of Pyongyang. In the meantime, Gorguryeo had dammed up the Salsu River in preparation for this turn of events. When the Sui army arrived at the river, the dam was toppled, and the invaders were caught in the onrushing waters.
Some historians have noted problems with this: the timing on the construction of the dam as well as the building up of a significant reservoir of water, the open plain and the fact that the Sui army was probably strung out over a great distance indicates that few of the invaders were likely drowned. But it was likely enough to break up their formation, making them an easy target for the Gorgoryeo cavalry. What is not doubted is the decisive victory for the defenders and the massive losses for the invaders which ultimately contributed to the downfall of the Sui empire a few years later.
There are several places along the Sulsa (now Chongchon) River in North Korea which are related to the battle. Because of the sheer numbers of men involved, some or all of them may be the site of the battle, as the Sui might have tried to cross in more than one place.
The sites of the Battle of Sulsa are clustered along the Chongchon River outside of the city of Anju, approximatelty forty miles north of Pyongyang. As of this writing no visitor information was available. Web: N/A.
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