Mongol Logistics by Len Krol
There is a conspiracy website that oddly asks a lot of good questions. While they have the usual nonsense, there are other areas where they ask some good questions about other subjects. One of the areas is the history of the Mongols. The site claims that the Mongols never existed and the Mongol wars are all a myth.
I would not go that far, but I never felt conformable with Mongols logistics. The belief is that the secret to Mongol success is that the fast moving horse archers outmaneuvered their opponents. Horse archer armies have been defeated before. There is more to the Mongols than meets the eye.
The basic problem is that the Mongols never wrote an official history. Their history is written by their enemies: Russians, Chinese, and Persians. For the Europeans and Arabs, the Mongols were like a tide that came in and left. They are not sure what happened.
Horse archer armies have their own disadvantages. They take up a lot of space. Each horseman is equal to five infantrymen. This means that a space where 10,000 infantry can stand, only 2,000 horsemen can stand. A horse army gives up a lot of combat power and needs to eat more than an infantry army. Horses needs five times the amount of food as a human. You can carry the fodder, but that weighs a lot and will wear down the horses or you can let the horses graze, that will take most of the day. On the strategic level a horse army moves as fast as a foot army.
What were the real advantages of the Mongol army?
Mongols had superlative Diplomatic skill.
This may come from generations of warfare on the steppe. You had to know how to form alliances and arrange truces. You could use this skill with city dwellers and other enemies to turn them into allies. Mongols were serious about diplomacy. If you killed an ambassador, there would be no mercy. You and your nation would be destroyed.
Mongols had friends everywhere.
If you were a merchant or a tradesman, the Mongols were your friend. They protected the trade routes. Caravans could travel unarmed though Mongol territory for the Mongols would ruthlessly hunt down any bandits. This increased trade and profits.
Merchants often provided information that was helpful. A prime example of this was the Mongol invasion of Russia. The Mongols invaded in the winter. The rivers would be frozen and not be an obstacle. The winter is the time between the autumn mud season and the spring mud season. Mud not snow was the factor that slowed down invading armies. Also, the cities were so far apart that it would be hard to organize a relief army. This is why the Mongols defeated Russia while others failed.
When the Mongols besieged a city an ultimatum was issued to surrender or die. I always presumed this was followed by someone who would state that his city surrendered to the Mongols and now live in peace and prosperity. That might have made a better impression.
The Mongol Army was a standing army
Mongol soldiers were expected to serve in the ranks for years. The result is better cohesion among the soldiers. The more cohesion a unit has the more powerful it is and will last longer in combat.
In medieval times, the only regulars were the guard units. These were at the most ten percent of the force. There might be mercenary units. These vary in size and quality. Most of a medieval army would be the local militia which tends to run. Hence the Mongol army has more cohesion than any opposing armies, even if the Mongols were only half or a quarter of the size of its opponents.
I am unsure if the Mongols were a volunteer army or a conscript army. Did the Mongols ask for volunteers and pick only the best? Did they require each clan or tribe to recruit a certain number of warriors?
How were Mongols trained? I know they learn how to ride and shoot before they could walk. You have to learn how to fit in the system. That may take at least a few months. There are claims that the Mongols would train their warriors by having a mass hunting expedition for three months. Outside of the fact that this would cause the extinction of many animals after a few years, this looks like an all army field exercise. You do not send rookies into something like this if you want to keep them alive.
The Mongol Leaders were experienced
The Mongol leaders were experienced and served a long time. The soldiers knew them and trusted them. The Mongol leaders could stand behind the lines and watch the entire battlefield. They were able to signal to the units through flags and sounds. The Mongol army was able to gain the initiative and quickly exploit the mistakes of their enemies.
New technology and tactics
In some battles, there are reports of boulders being dropped on them by the Mongols. They must have been dropped by catapults. Where did these catapults come from? They might have been prefabricated catapults. Other armies had these. Even prefabricated catapults would be heavy. This would slow down fast riding archers. Did the Mongols have a force of hard riding catapult crews?
Other reports say that the Mongols used smoke screens or created flashes and explosions. In the 13th century gunpowder was available but in small quantities. This is a time that if a few firecrackers were dropped into the tight ranks they would have caused a panic.
While these unique weapons and tactics helped, they were not as important as the cohesion of the warriors and the respected leadership.
The fall of the Mongolian empire
The Mongolian empire was not measure in miles but degrees of Latitude and Longitude. It had to administer as smaller Khanates. These Khanates were powerful in themselves. In a few generations, the leaders of these khanates would go native and identify with the locals not the Empire. They would also recruit the locals who did not fight like Mongols. They would often fight the other Khanates and ignore orders sent by the big guy.
Unlike the Huns and Goths, the Mongols never moved their nation westward. This led to a sharp division in the Mongol nation. There was the stay at home ones who claimed that they were the real Mongols because they lived in tents and herded animals. The other side admitted that they did live in buildings because they conquered the city. They were the conquerors, and conquering is what Mongols are supposed to do. This led to a twenty years civil war between these two factions. It is hard to decisively defeat a mobile army who could easily withdraw. Eventually no one cared who the Great Khan was anymore. In many ways The Mongol Empire just faded away.
The lesson here is that the more you know about history, the more questions you seem to have.
Get some books on the Mongols here.