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Battle of Red Cliffs (a.k.a. Battle of Chibi) from Wikipedia

Battle of Red Cliffs (Battle of Chìbì) was a decisive battle during the period of the Three Kingdoms in China. It took place in the winter of Year 208 between the allied forces of the southern warlords (Liu Bei and Sun Quan), and the northern warlord Cao Cao. Liu and Sun successfully frustrated Cao's effort to conquer the land south of the Yangtze River and reunify China. Despite being one of the most famous battles of Chinese history, descriptions of the battle differ widely on details; in fact, even the place of battle is still fiercely debated.


By 208, the Duke of Wei, Cao Cao, controlled all of the North China Plain. He completed a successful campaign against the Wuhuan in the winter of 207, thus securing his northern frontier. Almost immediately afterward, his army turned south in the autumn of 208, aiming to eliminate his main southern rivals swiftly. Meanwhile, Liu Biao, Governor of Jing province, died in that year and his successor meekly surrendered.

Liu Bei, then at garrison at Fan (modern Xiangfan), quickly fled south with a large refugee population following him. He was pursued by Cao Cao's elite cavalry, and was surrounded at the Battle of Changban. Liu further fled east to Xiakou, where he liaised with Sun Quan's emissary Lu Su. Liu's main advisor Zhuge Liang was sent down the Yangtze to negotiate a mutual front against Cao Cao with the state of Wu. Zhuge Liang's eloquence and Wu's chief commander, Zhou Yu's support finally persuaded Sun Quan, to agree on the alliance against the northerners. Sun Quan sent Zhou Yu, Cheng Pu, and Lu Su to aid Liu Bei against Cao Cao.


Battle of Red Cliffs

The decisive blow to Cao came shortly afterwards, though the sources vary on whether Liu or Sun struck it. The most detailed account comes from the biography of Zhou Yu, which details how the Sun commander Huang Gai planned an attack on Cao Cao with fire ships, by pretending to surrender to Cao Cao. The source tells of the devastation wrought in the Cao camp by the fires. In any case, a general order of retreat was given to Cao's troops, and it is likely that the northerners destroyed a number of their own ships during the retreat. There are hints that the northerners were at the time already plagued by disease and low morale

Many other sources indicate that a combination of Wei's underestimation and Shu's deception resulted in the allies' victory in the Battle of Chibi (Red Cliffs). Cao Cao's generals and soldiers were mostly from cavalry and infantry, and almost none had any experience in battles on the water. Immersed in his victory over Wuhuan, Cao Cao simply assumed that superiority in number would eventually defeat the Wu and Shu navy (the ratio of the naval forces on the two sides are estimated as 120,000 to 50,000). He converted his massive infantry and cavalry army into a marine corps and a navy, which was his first tactical mistake. Even with only a few days of drills before the battle, Cao Cao's troops were already decimated by sea-sickness and lack of water experience, as many of his "fresh" crew could not even swim. Tropical diseases to which southerners had long been immune also plagued the soldiers of the north, and were out of control in Cao Cao's camps.

Extremely worried that his troops would be debilitated by the unfamiliar environment, Cao Cao decided to chain his entire fleet together with strong irons chains. Within days, sea-sickness was drastically decreased, as the ships would rock less when chained together. However, this seemingly beneficial act would eventually cause the destruction of the fleet.

At the same time, the commanders calculated that at this time of the year winds would only blow in the direction of northwest (which was called a southeastern wind). Cao Cao's fleet, which was anchored in the northwest relative to Sun and Liu's camps, was then thoroughly exposed to a fire attack. They bet on this South-eastern wind to even out the chances of the Wu and Shu's inferior forces. However, Cao Cao, unfamiliar with the southern weather patterns, was unaware, since most of the season it was the northwestern wind that blew.

On the eve of the battle, Cao Cao realized that the southeastern wind disrupted his entire fleet movement, as his fleet could not advance against a wind blowing straight towards it. A general retreat order was issued, but as his fleet was chained tightly to one another, panic broke out and prevented the fleet from retreating effectively. The entire fleet of 2,000 was then trapped in the middle of the Yangtze river with restricted mobility.

In a desperate effort, Cao Cao called for an attack against the allied force. However, the arrows from Cao Cao's fleet could not reach Wu and Shu's fleets, as the Southeastern wind blew the arrows away from their designated targets. Cao Cao's strategies of overwhelming the Sun-Liu navies with boarding parties had failed as soon as the fleet was immobilized. The Wu forces, aided by the wind, launched arrows with fire tips at the hapless warships of Cao Cao. A combination of volleys of "fire arrows" and attacks of the "fire ships" led by Huang Gai eventually destroyed most of Cao Cao's ships. Then Sun Quan's main forces, on the southern side of the river, crossed the river while Liu Bei's forces marched towards Wulin, defeating Cao Cao's forces on the way. Seeing that the situation is hopeless, Cao Cao burnt his remaining ships and retreated towards Jiangling via Huarong.

Due to famine, disease, and skirmishes along the way, many of Cao Cao's remaining forces perished. However, Zhang Liao and Xu Zhu soon came to the rescue and Cao Cao was safely escorted back to Jiangling. Cao Cao then retreated back north, leaving Cao Ren and Xu Huang to guard Jiangling, Man Chong in Dangyang, and Yue Jin in Xiangyang.

Aftermath of the Battle of Red Cliffs

By the end of 209, the command Cao Cao had established at Jiangling fell to Zhou Yu. Liu Bei, on the other hand, had gained territory by taking over the four commanders south of the Yangzi River. He also occupied Cao Cao's Jingzhou, a strategic fortress on the Yangtze River that Wu claimed for itself. Jingzhou's location gave Liu Bei virtually unlimited access to the passage into Shu, important waterways into Wu, and dominion of the southern Yangtze River. Sun Quan was extremely bitter over this act of betrayal by Liu Bei, and Sun-Liu ties were severed. As a result, Sun and Liu would be warring over Jingzhou for the next 20 years. Cao Cao was still recuperating from the losses suffered in the Battle of Chibi, and therefore did not have enough resource to defend or retake Jingzhou from his southern rivals.

It is later claimed by some scholars that Zhuge Liang had planned this battle all along, calculating that Sun Quan's Wu force would be most weakened after the Battle of Chibi so that Shu could take the advantage of expanding its territory. Zhuge Liang gave the fortress of Jingzhou to Guan Yu, who maintained and guarded it until his death in 219.




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