Cao Cao's Chi Bi Strategy

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Unread postby Frank » Wed Nov 24, 2004 12:51 am

Yes, that's definitely well put. I think the idea of 200,000 troops heading down the Chang Jiang at once sounds worse than 10 groups of 20,000 troops heading towards them from 10 seperate directions. With such a smaller number in each force, Sun Quan could have easily ambushed each of these armies and defeated Cao Cao's forces one by one, due to his lack of naval skills. However, an attack by the land isn't entirely impossible. It will certainly take him longer, yes. But that wait sounds fine by me. It's better to take a long time to arrive and win than to arrive in a hurry and lose. And, of course, as stated to support why he did take this route, that Chang Jiang river, Wu's naval skills, and Wei's lack of naval skills were things that the Wu advisors sought great protection from. But, if Cao Cao was to overcome these things, then Wu would have no more defenses to rely on and would certainly cause a panic in Wu. That water route was Wu's trump card for defense, and if Cao Cao shattered it, he would prove his dominance over Wu.
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Unread postby Lu Kang » Fri Nov 26, 2004 6:42 pm

Exar Kun wrote:There's a rather large difference between what happned then and the situation Cao Cao was facing at the time.It has a lot to do with Wu strength and Wei naval inexperience.By Wang Jun's time they could have accumulated a lot of naval time whereas Cao Cao's time had very little need for northern men to learn to be seafaring or riverfaring in this case.Northern armies almost never went south of the capital districts.The only case I can recall for like 50 years is Duan Jiong in Jingzhou in the 160s.


Cao CAo had a very experianced navy under his command, Wang Jun's navy was rotting. Cao Cao took control of Liu Biao's navy and all of it's naval troops. That HUGE navy was all of Liu Biao's experianced naval troops. Cao Cao had an army about the size of Wu's army (I would assume that Jing and Yang were supporting the same size armies) and a large navy.

I ask you,would the psychological effect on the Wu court have been the same if Cao Cao had split his 230k into multiple routes?Attacking not only at Chai Sang but further south and also in north Yang and Jiangxia?Doubt it?Doubt it.They be alarmed at the case I presented yes but not the same as when their scouts can't tell where an army ends.


It would have been a military diseaster. First off, Cao Cao may have had a low as 160,000-170,000 men. Secondly, Yang and southern Jing are mountainous and it would have taken weeks for the army to get to Wu, giving Wu plenty of time to prepare for defence and to even try to bring the navy all the way uip, strike Jiang Ling, and cut off Wei's retreat route. Not only that, but they would have the same exact mountain problems as they would later have with Shu. Third, all the main cities were by the river and the river was atleast 10 times faster. Cao Cao was banking on one thing, a quick sweep of Jing and Yang. If he wanted to be bogged down for months at a time and have a really slow invasion he would have secured Jing then had a two pronged attack from the north and from teh west. That's not what CAo Cao wanted, Cao CAo wanted a fast sweep, the river was the fastest route. It wasn't about trying to "beat SUn Quan at his own game" it was more like "throw all strategy to wind and try to win by speed and intimidation".
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Unread postby Poe » Sat Dec 04, 2004 12:49 am

I see. It makes sense why he would keep his army together.

Was he really just counting on Sun Quan to surrender? His strategy seems poorly thought out unless that is the case. Why not mass his boats and attempt a breakthrough? Wu's navy is strong but they probably couldn't hold up against an armada of that size if they all attacked at once.

Then again, that's essentially what the Persians did at Salamis, and look where it got them. Perhaps Cao held off because he was afraid of his navy being rolled up and driven into each other in such large groups.

If Cao knows his strength is his army in land battles, why sit on a river? If I were him I would be looking for a way to get on the other side of the Chang Jiang as fast as possible.

But, then again too, I wouldn't expect Sun Quan to surrender until I had the document in my hand.

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Unread postby Zhuge Zhao » Sat Dec 04, 2004 4:29 am

Wu's navy is strong but they probably couldn't hold up against an armada of that size if they all attacked at once.
How might they have attacked all at once when Cao Cao's ships were on fire. You must also remember, during the battle of Red Cliffs most of Cao Cao's men were from the north, the provinces of Qing and Xu and naval warfare was unfamiliar to them. Putting them against a well trained navy from the south would be difficult to defeat. Though the southlanders were outnumbered they were capable of putting up a good fight with officers like Han Dang, Gan Ning, Zhou Tai. All of these generals are well train in naval warfare.

If Cao knows his strength is his army in land battles, why sit on a river? If I were him I would be looking for a way to get on the other side of the Chang Jiang as fast as possible.
Clearly you do not know the art of warfare. How could Cao Cao have crossed over the river quickly with his army numbering in hundreds of thousands. Cao Cao had no other way but to fight a naval battle, the territories of the south is only access by the Great River. When Zhou Yu discovers that Cao Cao was crossing the river with is might host, He would have striked him at once. Since they do not know naval warfare they might have all pershied in the Great River while trying to cross it. Zhou Yu saw the weakness of Cao Cao's army and used it to defeat him in Red Cliffs. That is why the battle of Red Cliffs had to be fought in water.
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Unread postby Lu Kang » Sat Dec 04, 2004 4:39 am

Poe wrote:If Cao knows his strength is his army in land battles, why sit on a river? If I were him I would be looking for a way to get on the other side of the Chang Jiang as fast as possible.


He actually had his force on the southern banks of the Yangtze at Chi Bi. It was here that Zhou Yu and Liu Bei defeated Cao Cao forcing him back to the northern shore. Here Huang Gai launched his famous fire attack and destroyed Cao Cao's navy.
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Unread postby Tianshan Zi » Sun Dec 05, 2004 9:48 pm

Exar Kun wrote:I don't see how you deny the existence of the psychological element in Cao Cao's choice.It showed very prominently in the Wu court where the only three people who truly championed war were Zhou Yu,Zhuge Liang and Lu Su.

Very astute. Cao Cao had already enjoyed the surrender and employment of a significant portion of Jingzhou's vessels, commanders, and troops. He had already demonstrated restraint during his recent conquests and knew that the rewards he had given the Jingzhou notables in exchange for allegiance and service would catch the attention of those in the service of Sun Quan. Another thing to consider: Zhou Yu and Lu Su were alone in urging Lord Sun to resist, as Exar Kun points out, and the two of them were part of the "old guard" from Sun Ce's era. In so many ways, the two of them urged Lord Sun to act in opposition to the spirit of the times and in more an old-fashioned way. Decades later, when Wu finally capitulated (mostly without a fight) and Jin dominated, one can see the echo of Cao Cao's original vision.

Zhuge Zhao wrote:Clearly you do not know the art of warfare.

:wink: A bit of a harsh statement, seeing as the military classics and even later writings vary in preference as often as contingencies vary. However, had Cao Cao attempted a crossing, he would have been inviting Liu Bei and Sun Quan's forces to strike his troops when "half of them" had crossed, in accord with Sunzi and other works regarding the art of warfare. Yet, because Cao Cao, in fact, did occupy the more favorable position up-stream, the establishment of a beachhead and temporary fieldworks on the opposite shore (while maintaining adequate riverine patrols and demoralizing, distracting commando-like raids farther down-stream) to protect the crossing troops until a more permanent position could be established would have been a viable option. Naval encounters during the invasion would be unavoidable, but because Cao Cao enjoyed the upstream advantage, he did not have to engage in ship-to-ship combat on a massive scale. I think that his establishment of the naval camp is in accord with this thinking. (He also likely needed some time not only to address the ever-present diseases among his troops but also to consolidate his recent acquisitions and guarantee his supply routes in case a more aggressive approach would prove necessary.)

In the end, though, nothing can excuse Cao Cao from taking Huang Gai's surrender so matter-of-factly, an extreme blunder that cost him dearly. (The surrender would have been just one of many that he would have expected as the Southland notables steadily lost hope in accord with his plan of psychological warfare.) The military classics warn against false surrenders and defections. Cao Cao's overconfidence and pride trumped his better judgement, and so he did not take the relatively simple precautions necessary to thwart incendiary attacks, despite the "change in winds."
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Unread postby Frank » Sun Dec 05, 2004 10:10 pm

I think the way you put Huang Gai's surrender, you didn't give Cao Cao as much credit. He, in the novel, knew not to believe in the defection. However, Kan Ze cried and shed many tears, and created a very believable story as to why Huang Gai would surrender. And, unfortunately, Cao Cao bought into it
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Unread postby Tianshan Zi » Sun Dec 05, 2004 10:35 pm

Prime Minister Cao wrote:I think the way you put Huang Gai's surrender, you didn't give Cao Cao as much credit. He, in the novel, knew not to believe in the defection. However, Kan Ze cried and shed many tears, and created a very believable story as to why Huang Gai would surrender. And, unfortunately, Cao Cao bought into it

Yes, but even if, in this case, we take the novel's version of events to be true, we still can't excuse Cao Cao for not taking proper precautions to ensure that the surrender took place under controlled conditions. Cao Cao could have overtly accepted Kan Ze's pleas and prepared to fete Huang Gai upon his arrival (if the defection proved to be genuine) but also ensured the safety of his forces.

In general, though, just prior to the Chibi debacle and just afterward, Cao Cao is uncharacteristically disorganized and unprepared; in fact, during his panicked retreat following the holocaust, he makes little to no attempt to ensure the safe and orderly withdrawal of his surviving forces. In most cases, politically and militarily, I have great respect for Cao Cao; however, he unraveled his own carefully wrought plans and lent the required bit of fortune necessary to hand over victory to the well-prepared and alert Southland commanders.
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Unread postby Frank » Sun Dec 05, 2004 10:43 pm

You are right about Cao Cao's courses of action, but Cao Cao believed Kan Ze, and he didn't feel as though he needed any form of protection. Well, actually, I think there was, because Zhang Liao and a small squadron were with him. In fact, Zhang Liao shot an arrow under Huang Gai's armpit. But, he was oddly unorganized, and not the way you usually see Cao Cao. And about the retreat, in this sense, he was unorganized. But, the fact is, he expected this to be a quick battle, and didn't have time to organize his army before marching. He expected to fly fast down the Chang Jiang, and he wanted to force Sun Quan to surrender. But, yes, he was real sloppy with his retreat, and fell for each of Zhuge Liang's traps, and lost several men. Not the way I like to see Cao Cao.
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Unread postby Tianshan Zi » Sun Dec 05, 2004 11:03 pm

Prime Minister Cao wrote:You are right about Cao Cao's courses of action, but Cao Cao believed Kan Ze, and he didn't feel as though he needed any form of protection. Well, actually, I think there was, because Zhang Liao and a small squadron were with him. In fact, Zhang Liao shot an arrow under Huang Gai's armpit...

True. But the employment of incendiary tactics, especially on the part of an outnumbered force, must always be a primary concern. Huang Gai should never have been allowed within bowshot of Cao Cao's force; he and his men should have been escorted to shore (perhaps even met there by Lord Cao himself--and a proper bodyguard--to make a show of courtesy and respect) and his vessels then manned by Lord Cao's men. Any show of resistance should have signaled the deployment of an ever-ready screening force of vessels equipped with long poles to snag fireships (allowing them to burn up at a safe distance) and a force of skilled crossbowmen to launch fire-arrows at the approaching enemy in order to ignite them prematurely. Had appropriate precautions been taken, Huang Gai's ruse would not have been successful, either failing when the contents of his vessels were examined upon commandeering them or when his refusal to comply with Lord Cao's conditions on surrender threw up all sorts of red flags! :)
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