The Ice Bucket Challenge – a rudimentary cost-benefit analysis

26 Aug


Roughly 1.5 million video shares of the Ice Bucket Challenge (mostly US based and not including out of US video shares).

The UN states the average person needs 50 litres of water per day (in Africa – they do with 20 litres – with a billion people with little or no access to water)

An average small bucket holds about 10 litres of water.

On a low estimate (ignoring group ice bucket challenges), roughly 1.5 m X 10 l = 15 m litres of water has been used (the Washington Post estimated 5 million gallons or roughly 18 m litres of water used till 13 August)  across the videos.

Which translates to the water usage of 750,000 individuals in Africa for one day.

The ALS has raised about US$80m as a result of these challenges (they raised US$2m the same time last year).

I’m not sure whether the costs and benefits add up necessarily here.

Don’t want to pour cold water on good intentions though…..


Some interesting reading:

A review of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s 2014 National Day Rally

19 Aug

It was an interesting National Day Rally session by Prime Minister Lee this year. The Pioneer Generation was saluted, challenges were outlined, the government’s responses to the challenges were highlighted and there was a strong call to action to not forget the past and to reflect on the successes made by Singapore over the last five decades.

Below is a graphic illustration and personal take on the overall session and some of my own interpretations and thoughts. (Please click on image if it doesn’t appear clearly on your browser)

A summary of key messages (and some personal interpretations) of the 2014 National Day Rally by PM Lee

A summary of key messages (and some personal interpretations) of the 2014 National Day Rally by PM Lee

There was an interesting statement on the need to be ‘hard-headed’ in order to be ‘good hearted’ in relation to the need for economic growth to create opportunities. It remains to be seen what these hard-headed options are that are required for economic growth.

The PM’s take on the need to go beyond just academic qualifications and to also focus on relevant skills and qualifications is also an important one. This is what will support the employability agenda eschewed by the government which in turn addresses issues of social mobility and in the process go some way to resolving the widening income equality within the country.

Whilst the emphasis on the ‘Pioneer Generation’ (or PG) is important, it will be vital to support the upcoming ‘Frontier Generation’ (whom I have classified broadly as falling into the 18-35 group) and allowing them to fully explore their passions which are as important as the determination and resolve the PM highlighted in his speech.

On the whole, a thoroughly enjoyable rally with a rousing finale!

Leadership and management lessons from the first men to reach the South Pole

4 Aug

As I was watching Eight Below on HBO this afternoon (great film by the way), I started reading up on the first men who went to the ends of the world and was thoroughly impressed with the feats of the men who sacrificed life, limb, wealth, friendships, family and sanity in an era that was also considered the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.

As I started reading more about the various principal characters involved, I became particularly intrigued by two individuals, Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott. Both these men vied with each other for the title of being the first person to reach the South Pole. Amundsen ended up with the honour of being the first to get to the South Pole. Scott got there later but met with a tragic end and never returned back to his camp after reaching the Pole.

There are numerous accounts about their journeys and the historical reactions and developments about both Amundsen’s and Scott’s achievements. However, I want to touch on some of my own observations on what businesses and leaders can learn from Amundsen’s trip to the South Pole:

1. Clarity of mission
2. Clear leadership
3. Attention to detail
4. Constant preparation
5. Always find subject matter experts (and avoid arm-chair experts!)
6. Luck – is what you make of it



1. Clarity of mission

Amundsen was very clear that his primary objective was to be the first man to reach the South Pole. He expended his energy, his thoughts and his efforts to this one single endeavour.

On the other hand, Scott’s agenda was never very clear and he wanted to conduct scientific research, exploration and also reach the pole but nothing was clear defined. One example was when Scott and his team were returning from the Pole, defeated and already running low on supplies, he decided to stop at the top of the Beardmore glacier and deemed it fit to ‘geologise’ and subsequently add more than 15 kilograms of rock to their loads, which slowed them down further and precipitated the crew’s sad demise.

Amundsen was very clear about what his expedition’s objectives were and what his own ambition was and set out to dispassionately attain it.


2. Clear leadership

Scott was a product of his times and was extremely formal, conventional and hierarchical and this is what the English establishment demanded this of anyone who was leading an official British mission.

Amundsen on the other hand was an extremely competitive, relentless and focused individual who was also hugely innovative and was ruthlessly direct in his leadership.

As an example, most of Scott’s team (which was made up of sixty five men) was was picked by various external parties. Within that team included a Captain Oates with whom Scott clashed with on numerous ocassions. Oates was never silent about his conflict with Scott either which only served to undermine Scott further.

Amundsen on the other hand handpicked 19 men for his lean Fram expedition. In his team was a Hjalmar Johansen who was a noted explorer too. However, there was an incident where Amundsen made a mistake in setting off for a trek too early. This mistake almost cost the life of one of the men and Johansen publicly berated Amundsen in front of the other men. Amundsen dismissed Johansen from the expedition to preserve the unity and integrity of the team.

One may argue that Amundsen could have taken a different tact or approach. Ultimately, for an expedition into a great unknown, there has to be absolutely clarity and trust. Constant undermining of leadership would have led to mistrust and confusion and in the end cost lives.

As the National Geographic  puts it very eloquently, “Amundsen was also a man of towering ambition, prey to the same dangerous dreams and impulses that drive all explorers to risk their lives in wild places. Amundsen’s greatness is not that he lacked such driving forces but that he mastered them.”


3. Attention to detail

The clarity of the big picture is important. For any project or mission to succeed, the attention to detail, regardless of how minute, is also crucial.

In the case of Amundsen, he had a laser-like focus on every aspect of the Fram expedition – from the food chosen to the mode of travel to the choice of clothing.

Amundsen knew that in order to travel the distances they were targeting, they had to be able to get around quicker than if they were to do so purely on foot. To this end, Amundsen spent considerable time perfecting their ski equipment and footwear. This was something Scott’s team did not do sufficiently and towards the later stages of Scott’s expedition, this proved to be fatal.

Amundsen also spent considerable time with the Inuits and adopted fur suits along with their windproof outfits. The Inuits also wore their clothing loosely to reduce sweating (which helps retain body heat and also prevent freezing of clothes).

Even the way the fuel cans were sealed played a big role in the Antarctic expeditions. Scott had used incorrect washers for the fuel cans which led to evaporation of the fuel – which is a critical component in turning ice to water for drinking. Amundsen had worked this out earlier and had ensured that the cans were sealed properly to prevent any loss of fuel.

Food was an important component in the expedition which Amundsen paid a great deal of attention to. Amundsen, following his time with the Innuits, understood that an exclusively meat diet consisting of penguin and fresh seal meat was vital to remaining healthy. Although this wasn’t understood scientifically then, fresh seal and penguin meat provided enough Vitamin C to prevent scurvy (an ailment that afflicted sailors in those days and which was fatal in the long run if not treated).

On the other hand, a number of historians have indicated that the lack of good nutrition was one of the many reasons for Scott’s failure. They also tended to overcook the penguin and seal meat  (to remove the ‘fishy’ taste) which destroyed the Vitamin C present in them. Amundsen’s indifference to palate meant that his expedition ensured that they ate very unappetising biscuits (made from oatmeal, yeast – with enough Vitamin B, beef fat and pounded dried beef!) and which provided them with essential roughage. Again, this is something the British expedition team chose to ignore.

As Geir Klover, director of the Fram Museum in Oslo, explains, “”Amundsen had a tremendous reputation. He was a meticulous planner, easily the best organised explorer of his generation.”

The attention to detail, especially for major campaigns, is absolutely critical in not only determining the success or failure of the campaign, but between life and death.



4. Constant preparation

During the winter months, Amundsen and his team spent the days optimising their equipment, their clothing, their logistics and working to improve their efficiency. It was an extremely focused team with a clear view of what needed to be done to achieve the task at hand.

Scott’s team spent the time engaged in a series of meetings, lectures and reading. This led to missed opportunities for the team to review their practical and operational needs and performance.

A clear vision, decisive leadership and attention to detail are matters which determine how well a team is prepared for a mission.


5. Always find subject matter experts (and avoid arm-chair experts!)

Amundsen had one of Norway’s skiing champions in his team (despite the fact he wasn’t an explore or mountaineer). He also ensured that he had canine experts and dog handlers to choose the best dogs for his journey. (Scott chose not to use dogs – which he thought was more noble). This was also counter to the prevailing view in Britain in those days that dogs were of dubious value as a means of Antarctic transport (which was subsequently proven to be false).

On the other hand, Scott had instructed a member of his team who knew nothing about horses to choose the ponies for the expedition. The ponies chosen were of poor quality, age and condition and which only served to hinder Scott’s expedition.


6. Luck – is what you make of it

Amundsen summed it up best when he said:

“I may say that this is the greatest factor—the way in which the expedition is equipped—the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order — luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.”



A paradigm shif…

16 Apr

A paradigm shift in organisation structures?

Being a Lean Matrix Organisation: a sophisticated multi-function, multi team, multi-reporting structure but without the organisational bureaucracy.

A beautiful eulogy to a dog (or any pet!)

16 Feb

I came across this very interesting closing argument made by George Graham Vest in 1870 to a jury whilst representing a client whose hunting dog (named Old Drum) was killed by a farmer. Vest’s client was suing for damages for $50 but in the end the story goes that he was awarded $500. This closing argument may be the reason why:

“Gentlemen of the jury: The best friend a man has in this world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter that he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name, may become traitors to their faith. The money that a man has, he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it the most. A man’s reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads. The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog.

Gentlemen of the jury: A man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounters with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains.

When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens.If fortune drives the master forth an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him to guard against danger, to fight against his enemies, and when the last scene of all comes, and death takes the master in its embrace and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even to death.”

The Google Toothbrush test

3 Feb

Google’s toothbrush test for new services (introduced by Larry Page):” Will everyone use it at least twice a day?” Services such as Google Search, Google Mail and Android certainly pass the test. #innovation

This should be what firms think about as they create new products (I suppose we will need to think how we can move products which have passed the floss test – where people know the product/service is important but don’t use it enough – and push it on to pass the toothbrush test!!)

Tsubotei – the greatest Mongol general

18 Nov

Tsubotei – the greatest Mongol general

Following my recent trip to the beautiful steppes of Mongolia where I had the opportunity to experience the warmth of the people and the beauty of the land, I felt moved to write about Tsubotei, a legendary Mongol general leading the armies of Genghis Khan (who was first known to all as Temujin) but who is not as familiar outside of Asia.

I must also state from the outset that the most comprehensive account of Tsubotei’s life (and indeed the basis of most of the rest of this article) comes from Richard A. Gabriel’s excellent book, “Genghis Khan’s greatest general – Subotai the Valiant”.  (Link to Amazon). I must also highlight, the Secret History of the Mongols, as another great source of information on Mongol history (which R. Gabriel draws from significantly as well).


“I’ll be like a rat and gather up others I’ll be like a black crow and gather great flocks. Like the felt blanket the covers the horse, I’ll gather up soldiers to cover you. Like the felt blanket that guards the tent from the wind, I’ll assemble great armies to shelter your tent.”

Tsubotei’s oath to Temujin (Genghis Khan) as a boy

A brief introduction to the man
Humble beginnings
Early promise of military genius and development
The conquest of China and Korea
Unfolding events in Central Asia, Russia and Europe
The end of a fearsome era

A brief introduction to the man

Tsubotei Baghatur (Tsubotei the Valiant) was one of Genghis Khan’s greatest generals. He, along with Khalid ibn Waleed a Muslim general of the 7th century, is considered to be one of the finest, most astute strategists known in ancient military history.

This is a man who was called one of Genghis Khan’s four dogs of war (the others were Jelme, Jebe and Kublai). He was Genghis’ Orloock (or eagle) who defended the Great Khan’s lands and struck fear into the hearts of enemies.

He started off as a mere attendant of Genghis Khan’s tents and rose to become one of Mongolia’s most brilliant generals with a flair for the genius and remarkable. Tsubotei, along with Jebe, became the first equivalents of modern day Field Marshals in Genghis’ new military structure.

He lived till seventy three and when he died, both his Chinese and Muslim enemies erected monuments in his honour. In his lifetime, he conquered thirty two nations and won sixty five battles. He was also responsible for the conquest of lands to the east and west of Mongolia – from China and Korea to Persia to Russia and Hungary.

Tsubotei’s conquest of Hungary decimated every major army between Mongolia and the threshold of modern-day Western Europe. It is often said that history makes monumental shifts on the slender wisps of fate. In this instance, it was the death of the Great Khan (Ogedai – the third son of Genghis and his successor), which saved Western Europe from a Mongolian conquest. At the time of Ogedai’s death, Tsubotei’s armies controlled everything from the Baltic Sea to the Danube River.

They had overcome European armies five times the Mongol army’s size. As Tsubotei’s army was conducting a reconnaissance of Vienna (and as the populace of the rest of Europe trembled in fear), Tsubotei received word that the Great Khan had died. Mongolian custom had it that all Mongolian royal princes had to return for the election of the new Khan. As Tsubotei’s army had three royal princes, he had little choice but to return to the Mongolian capital.

The history of the world as we know it now could have been altered remarkably had Tsubotei continued heading West.

However Tsubotei’s legacy continues in much of modern military operations and theory. A focus on speed, manoeuvre, surprise, concealment, rear guard battle, concentration of firepower and the doctrine of deep battle were ingrained into Tsubotei’s armies and they have continued into modern day military application. Tsubotei was also unique amongst his Mongolian peers in that he preferred to observe the battles from a vantage point and strategising rather than charging at the head of the army and lose the opportunity to watch the flow and ebb of battle and to strike at pivotal moments.

Humble beginnings

As R. Gabriel writes, one of the most interesting paradoxes of military history is that one of the greatest Mongol generals ever was, strictly speaking, not actually ethnically a Mongol. The term Mongol came about after Genghis Khan unified the various tribes of Mongolia, from the Kerits, to the Merkits, the Naimans and the Tartars.

Tsubotei was technically, an Uriangkhai. They were a forest tribe whom the chroniclers of ancient history referred to as the Reindeer people who lived near the western edge of the Lake Baikal. They were a very different people to the Mongols of the steppe. They were neither nomadic nor pastoral and were hunters, fisherman and traders who lived in permanent log huts. They also maintained domesticated herds of reindeer (or reem as they called it).

Tsubotei was the son of a blacksmith called Jachigudai and whose mother died in childbirth. He was also the younger brother of Jelme (another great Mongol general who was offered when he was still a boy to Genghis’ father, Yeseguei, to serve Genghis when he grew up).

Tsubotei was supposed to have taken over his father’s trade, however, the allure of the Mongol steppe proved too strong for him and he left the comfort of his Uriangkhai people and went on to join the army of Temujin at the age of fourteen. It is also critical to bear in mind that it is very likely that Tsubotei would not have ridden horses till this point at a time when Mongol children would have mastered the age of riding by the ages of six onwards. Tsubotei also would not have had the experience of eating uncooked food, or riding on horses for long distances and surviving on the blood and milk of mares as longer distances were covered. These are all skills Tsubotei would have learnt from scratch at the age of fourteen (in an era where boys joined the army from the age of thirteen onwards) which makes Tsubotei’s progress even more remarkable.

This also demonstrates Tsubotei’s tenacious and determined spirit. He knew his limitations and knew that his experience in Mongol warfare was non-existent at the start.

Tsubotei was initially given the role of Temujin’s keeper of the tent door where he learnt the skills of a Mongol warrior such as riding of horses and shooting bows whilst riding at full pelt along with basic Mongol military manoeuvres.

As a boy, Tsubotei pledged an oath to his master, Genghis Khan: “I’ll be like a rat and gather up others I’ll be like a black crow and gather great flocks. Like the felt blanket the covers the horse, I’ll gather up soldiers to cover you. Like the felt blanket that guards the tent from the wind, I’ll assemble great armies to shelter your tent.”

Whilst others compared themselves to bears and wolves, Tsubotei had no illusions about his lack of military knowledge but only served to seek Genghis any way he can and went as far as to compare himself to a rat or crow in his eagerness to serve his master.


Early promise of military genius and development

As Genghis Khan’s doorkeeper, Tsubotei would have been privy to the machinations to the Mongol planning and war councils. This was a fantastic military education at the feet of the Mongol generals of the time as Genghis Khan sought to consolidate and united the different tribes under one banner.

As a result, Tsubotei would have learned to think beyond individual units and tactics and think about how the various tactical operations fit under a wider strategic campaign towards a singular vision. As R. Gabriel writes, “Most new acquire this ability (the ability to conceptualise war plans and implement them on a grand scale), something that may explain why warfare has, over the long centuries of its practice, produced only a few truly great generals.”

Tsubotei’s first taste in leading a battalion was during Genghis’ campaign against the Merkits. He volunteered to lead an attack which led to a Mongol victory. Although a junior officer, he was considered to be a hugely valuable strategic asset by Genghis.

Whilst others offered their technical and physical abilities to their Khan, Tsubotei offered something more crucial – a mind that was strategic and brimming with military genius.

R. Gabriel further writes that although Tsubotei was known for his detailed planning and attention to intelligence report, Tsubotei at his core possessed the soul of a gambler, which Napoleon remarked, was the most important trait of a great general. “These traits of character, when joined with a first-rate intellect, made Tsubotei an extraordinarily innovative and imaginative commander,” explains R. Gabriel.

In the early periods of Temujin military expeditions to unite the different Mongol tribes, there was a point in 1203 where Temujin’s army was almost destroyed at the Battle of the Red Willows. Only a few of Temujin’s officers remained with him on the day, when the lake Baljuna was dry and the soldiers and officers of Temujin were dying of thirst.

Tsubotei was one of a handful of Temujin’s few loyal officers at the Baljuna lake when he and his army were almost wiped out by his one-time blood brother and then sworn enemy Jamuga and swore his oath to Temujin and remained true to the oath he made as a young boy to Temujin.                          

Temujin soon rebuilt his forces and continued to march towards his vision of unification of the Mongol tribes under one banner. As he battled the tribe of Naiman, which was the one last remaining tribe still resisting Temujin, Jamuga (who was previously Temujin’s anda or blood brother but had turned against him subsequently) is reported in the Secret History of the Mongols to have described Temujin’s generals as follows: “These are the Four Dogs of my anda Temujin. They feed on human flesh and are tethered with an iron chain. They have foreheads of brass, their jaws are like scissors, their tongues like piercing awls, their heads are iron, their whipping tails, and swords. They feed on dew. Running, they hide on the back of the wind. In the day of battle, they devour enemy flesh. Behold, they are now unleashed, and they slobber at the mouth with glee. These four dogs of war are Jebe, and Kublai, Jelme and Tsubotei.”

Subsequently, Genghis appointed Tsubotei and Jebe as the first orloocks of the new Mongol military structure. From that point one, there was never a major military campaign that was undertaken by Genghis or his successor, Ogedai, in which Tsubotei did not contribute to.

The ability to spot talent and character is one of the key traits and pillars leading to Genghis’ genius and accomplishments. Genghis was also not concerned with the ethnicity and background of his key generals. Of his Four Dogs, none were of the Borjigin Mongols which Genghis belonged to. Jelme and Tsubotei were both Uriangkhais, Khubilai was of another tribe, and Jebe was a Tayichigud. In later times, there were even Muslims and Chinese who held important positions in the Mongol army.

Tsubotei had the military genius, the discipline and the brilliance to lead the Mongol army to victories. As R. Gabriel explains, “Courage and warrior spirit were qualities not in short supply among steppe warriors. Competent field commanders were easily available, but an officer who could plan and coordinate large-scale military operations across thousands of miles was a rarity.” Therein lay the principal reasons for Tsubotei’s ascendency in the Mongol army.

The conquest of China and Korea.

Chinese chroniclers write of the brilliance of Tsubotei in planning numerous battles against the Chin states. Tsubotei was instrumental in the Mongol war against the Chin Empire and led the assault on the Great Wall. Following the major victories in Shaanxi, Tsubotei and his men rode across Manchuria to subdue the Mongol enemies there.

Tsubotei soon arrived at the outskirts of Pyongyang, the capital then and the Korean kingdom submitted peacefully. A few decades later, Korea was incorporated into the Mongol empire as a tribute state.

Following Genghis’ death and the succession of Ogedai, there were those who insisted that there was no need for further Mongol conquests. However, Tsubotei, one of the original orloocks, argued that the Chin empire was still intact and capable of resisting the Mongol kingdom and that there were still lands in the west belong to Russian and European princes all awaiting conquest. Tsubotei belonged to an old school of Mongol warriors for whom governing empires meant little. For him, only the conquering of nations mattered. The old Mongol belief was the between the mother Earth and Tengi (the Sky father), life was only about struggle – about riding, roaming and conquering.

Tsubotei convinced Ogedai Khan that time was right to continue with the conquests and Ogedai was convinced by the Mongol army’s greatest general.

Tsubotei’s genius, cunning and adaptable nature soon led to a total and complete victory by the Mongol army over the Chin empire. It is also said that Tsubotei initially wanted to destroy every single aspect of the Chin Empire and turn the plains into fine horse breeding country. Thankfully, Ogedai’s trust Chinese advisors pointed out that it was in nobody’s interests to pursue such a scorched earth policy and Ogedai spared the Chin Empire from a very terminal fate.

Unfolding events in Central Asia, Russia and Europe

Genghis, upon his return to Mongolia, in 1217, decided that he wanted to pacify the Kara Khitai, a mostly Turkic populated region. At the time the Kara Khitai was being ruled by Kuchlug (a Naiman Mongol who fled to Kara Khitai when Genghis undertook campaigns against his father. Kuchlug also instituted a campaign of forced conversion for a mostly Muslim population living in the Kara Khitai. Strangely enough, Kuchlug had an alliance with the Muslim Shah of Khwarizm.

Genghis despatched Jebe and Tsubotei to kill or capture Kuchlug who posed threats to his dominion over the lands. Jebe’s troops were the central flank leading into the Kara Khitai region whilst Tsubotei provided the support on the flanks and to ensure that Kuchlug’s ally, the Shah of Khwarizm did not threaten the main body of Jebe’s troops.

As Jebe proceeded through Kara Khitai, he proclaimed that all Muslims would have the freedom of religion and that none of the holy places would be harmed. Jebe opened up mosques and no plundering or atrocities were committed by his army. They eventually captured Kuchlug and executed him and exerted their influence over the Kira Khatai region as well.

In 1218, Genghis decided to send a trade caravan, comprising mostly of Muslim Mongols to Khwarizm to establish trading relations with the Khwarizm and Muslim empire. The governor of Otrar then set in motion a series of events that had impacts that reverberated across the Muslim and Western world. In a moment of lunacy, he decided to execute every single member of the Mongolian trade delegation. One of the camel drivers escaped and managed to inform Genghis what had happened.

Genghis decided that perhaps the Shah was unaware of his governor’s actions and decided to send another delegation to explain to the shah that he wanted the death of the governor who had trespassed diplomatic protocol. It is at this point that the Shah killed even more Muslim members of the Mongolian delegation and shaved the beards of the Mongols. Genghis took this latest outrage very personally and declared war against Mohammad Shah, the leader of the empire of Khwarizm.

As R. Gabriel writes, “The actions of an obscure government official set in motion a chain of events that changed the world. Until this incident, there was no evidence that Genghis Khan was dissatisfied with the borders of the great empire he had established for the Mongols. Now, the events of Otrar forced him to move against the Shah, with the result that all of Persia eventually came under Mongol rule. This, in turn, led to Tsubotei’s reconnaissance into the Russian steppes, which provided intelligence for the Mongol attach and occupation of Russian, an occupation that lasted for three centuries! And the success of the Russian campaign led inevitably to Tsubotei’s assault against Eastern Europe. No one foresaw it at the time, but the murder of the Mongol caravan at Otrar changed the entire history of Central Asia, Russia, and the West.”

As Tsubotei, Jebe and Jochi (Genghis’ eldest son) pursued the Shah, Tsubotei was presented with a warrant marked with the red seal of the Great Khan in which he promised that all those who did not resist were to be spared. Anyone who resisted was to be eliminated. Genghis was a man of his word, so much so that his own son-in-law, Toguchar was asked to stand down and transfer his troops to Tsubotei when he defied the Khan’s orders and sacked a town that had already surrendered.

Tsubotei pursued the Shah until the Shah crossed the Caspian Sea and found refuge in a small island but died in poverty and despair. Thus ended the mighty kingdom of Shah Mohammed II which was then captured piecemeal by the Mongols (and sometimes in horrific and tragic ways).

Following this though, there was still a huge issue which Genghis grappled with. There was concern that the Western armies (in Arab or European lands) may raise an army to fight the Mongol army. In the East, there was intelligence that Jalal al-Din, the faithful and able son of the Shah was raising an army to avenge the loss of the Shah’s dominion. The only commander who had any knowledge of the Western front was Tsubotei and he received very clear instructions when he was camped on the Caspian to return to Samarkand, Uzbekistan where Genghis was waiting. Tsubotei, a man who lived to serve his Khan, left the Caspian and undertook a 2,000 kilometre journey in just over seven days.

Here Tsubotei assured Genghis that given the terrain and conditions, it was unlikely that any army from the West will link up with Jalal al-Din’s army in the East. He also further proposed to Genghis that he and his men be permitted to ride on further West where there was a land with “narrow-faced men with light hair and blue eyes.”

R. Gabriel describes the subsequent events as follows, “In the late autumn of 1220, Tsubotei and his troop of Mongol cavalry men began what was to become the most remarkable cavalry raid in military history.”

Tsubotei undertook this very difficult campaign armed with the tenacity of his men along with the deep intelligence gathered by his staff officers who included Chinese scholars as well as Muslim scholars. They helped him compile the maps of Hungary, Poland, Silesia and Bohemia. A majority of this information was provided through interactions with Venetian traders whom Tsubotei’s men had come in contact with.

The Venetian traders had signed a secret treaty with the Mongols that they would send me back detailed reports and intelligence from the countries they visited. In exchange, the Mongols promised to destroy all other trading stations in the lands they rode on leaving the Venetians with a monopoly.

The Russians fearing the threats posed by the Mongols joined forces and converged upon Tsubotei. He was surrounded on all sides by various Russian troops and their allies. Tsubotei tried to use diplomacy to break off possible military engagements. In an interesting anecdote, Tsubotei sent an ambassador to the Prince of Kiev trying to convince the Prince that his intentions were not on conquering Russian fiefdoms.

However the Prince of Kiev executed the ambassador. In response, Tsubotei surprised the Prince of Kiev with another ambassador, this time carrying a formal declaration of war. Mongol military etiquette required that, whenever possible, a declaration of war be issued before the commencement of hostilities.

To avoid being entrapped by the Russian armies, Tsubotei and Jebe continued to move east, away from Russia. They left a rear guard platoon to report on enemy movements and to also delay the Russians as they advanced upon the Mongols. For over a week, the Russians pursued Tsubotei and Jebe after overcoming the rearguard Mongol troops.

Finally Tsubotei camped near the Kalka River, a terrain he had been over before. He decided that he would launch his counter attack of the Russian troops here. Tsubotei lit huge Mongol fire pots that created plenty of smoke that disoriented the advancing Russian troops and the Mongol light cavalry rode forward and backward in the path of the Russian troops concentrating their arrow fire to a deadly effect. The net result of this was that a Mongol army of 18,000 overcame a Russian alliance far larger and killed over 40,000 Russian troops along with six princes and seventy nobles.

Soon thereafter, the Mongols overcame the Prince of Kiev (who was suffocated in a box – as Mongol tradition forbade the shedding of royal blood except in battle).

Tsubotei then joined Jochi’s troops and defeated the Volga Bulgars. Thereafter, Tsubotei and Jebe headed back to the Mongol capital to meet with their Great Khan. Jebe passed away and never made it. Tsubotei also left behind a sophisticated intelligence network that allowed for the gathering of information and insight that was instrumental when Tsubotei headed back West. Tsubotei’s initial venture out into the West was with a very small army and was a cavalry raid. The next time he returned, he would do in a large force.

In 1227, Ogedai had taken over Genghis as the Great Khan following Genghis’ passing. At this point, the Mongol empire was engaged in four separate engagements: one against the Chinese empire; second against Korea to suppress a widespread revolt that had broken out in the Korean peninsula; the third against kingdoms around the Caucasus and Persia; and the fourth into Russia and then Central Europe.

Tsubotei was placed in charge of the fourth engagement towards the West. Tsubotei’s key idea was to conquer Russian piecemeal so that they did not have enough time to form mighty coalitions. Another key strategy was to attack them in winter when the Russians and European armies were ill-equipped to conduct battle.

In a short four years, Tsubotei had managed to capture almost all of Russia. He then turned his sights towards Eastern Europe. At this time, Europe remained a deeply feudal society with internecine warfare and campaigns against one another. Tsubotei decided to invade Hungary but simultaneously sent a force under Kaidu Khan, grandson of Ogedai to strike at Poland, Bohemia and Silesia and distract Tsubotei’s main aims of an attack against Hungary.

The Mongols destroyed all opposition to their plans of conquest at the battle of Liegnitz in 1241 where the Silesians were routed. Following this, the Grand Master of the Templars wrote to King Louis IX of France that there was no army of significance between France and a powerful Mongol army that aimed straight for the heart of Western Europe.

“The Mongol army was truly the most organised and combat efficient army that the world had seen in almost a thousand years,” writes R. Gabriel.

Whilst Kaidu Khan was destroying the armies of Poland and Silesia, Tsubotei was waging war against Hungary. Tsubotei broke the spine of the Hungarian army led by the Hungarian king, Bela decisively at the Battle of the Sajo River. Again, Tsubotei used his cunning to create openings and gaps that lured the Hungarian troops into the space which he then closed up with his archers and infantry troops. Over two days, the Mongol war machine killed between 50,000 and 70,000 Hungarian soldiers including the entire royal army of Hungary.

As Tsubotei’s troops encircled Vienna and poised to strike into the rest of Western Europe, the Mongol army heard the news that Ogedai Khan wad dead and they had to return to the Mongol capital. As the powerful Mongol machinery made its way back to the capital, they disappeared, never again returning to Europe.


The end of a fearsome era

R. Gabriel writes that when the Franciscan monk Giovanni di Plano Carpini visited the Mongol court, he reported that Tsubotei was alive and in his early seventies. He was the most famous and admired of all Mongol general.

It was rumoured that Tsubotei had removed his badges of rank and lived in his ger (a Mongolian tent) tending his herds and watching his grandchildren grow.

The Mongols referred to Tsubotei as the Unfailing. Carpini described him as a soldier without weakness. The Muslims described him as “silent, insatiable, and remorseless.”

The Russians thought of his as “extremely disciplined.”

The Chinese held Tsubotei in very high esteem as a great warrior upon his death, bestowed upon him the title of King of Hunan because he had captured the province. They also called him, “the faithful and steady.”

When Tsubotei died, Muslim chroniclers noted that he “had conquered thirty two nations and won sixty-five pitched battles.”

In the end, Tsubotei became a man whom even his enemies respected for his military genius, brilliance in planning and strategy. Tsubotei Baghatur or Tsubotei the Valiant truly was amongst the greatest generals in military history.


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