Shipwreck from Mongol invasion found off Japan


RESEARCHERS IN Japan have unearthed a sunken shipwreck from one of the country’s most legendary episodes – the ill-fated 13th century invasion by the forces of Mongol ruler Kublai Khan.

The 12-metre section of a Mongolian ship will help historians understand more about one of the world’s most fearsome armies, said archaeology professor Yoshifumi Ikeda, whose team made the discovery. “We’re going to try to raise the ship,” pledged Prof Ikeda, who said that the first job was to preserve it from further deterioration. “This is a very important find and will tell us a lot about our past.”

The Mongols, who at the time ran an empire that stretched from the Pacific to the Urals, launched two invasion fleets against Japan in 1274 and 1281. The second was reportedly 4,400-strong, carrying an army of 140,000 soldiers with superior weaponry to the Japanese, including gunpowder and grenades.

Historians say some of the Mongols landed in southern Japan and were engaged by Samurai warriors. But both fleets were struck by storms that sank most of the ships, an episode from history later dubbed the Kamikaze (“Divine Wind”) story, because of the perception that Japan had been saved by divine intervention.

Mongols had little experience of naval warfare and used slave labour from present-day Korea to build what are believed to have been flimsy Chinese riverboats. The boats were no match for the fierce typhoons that batter Japan’s southern coast in late summer.

The Kamikaze legend was revived during the second World War when the name became associated with suicide pilots who crashed their explosive-laden aircraft into US warships in a doomed attempt to turn the tide of the war. The postwar occupation of Japan is the first in the nation’s history. Prof Ikeda’s team, which has spent years researching the Mongol invasions, used ultrasonic equipment to locate the wreck off the coast of Nagasaki Prefecture in waters about 20-25 metres deep.

Pottery, cannonballs, anchors and other artifacts had previously turned up in the seabed near the area but the wreck, though to have belonged to a 20-metre warship, is the first semi-intact hull from the invasion every found. If the ship can be raised and the find verified it could turn the nearest local city of Matsuura into a major tourist attraction.

Prof Ikeda said the eventual aim was to rebuild the Mongol wreck. “I believe we will be able to understand more about shipbuilding skills at the time as well as the actual situation of exchanges in east Asia,” he told a press conference in Nagasaki.