Battle of the Yodo River (14 June 1332)

The battle of the Yodo River (14 June 1332) was a victory won by Kusunoki Masashige over the forces of the Shogunate at the Yodo River (modern Osaka). In 1331 the Emperor Go-Daigo had attempted to overthrow the Shogunate and restore direct Imperial rule. His first attempt had failed and after the short siege of Kasagi (3-31 October 1331) he had been captured.

During his short period of liberty the Emperor had gained a number of supporters, including Kusunoki Masashige, a medium ranked warrior from Kawachi province (south of Kyoto). In November 1331 Kusunoki's castle of Akasaka fell after a short siege, but he escaped into the mountains and began to gather support.

On 28 April 1332 Kusunoki recaptured Akasaka, disguising some of his men as a supply convoy heading to the castle. After this success he occupied Izumi and Kawachi provinces (in the Osaka area), and on the seventeenth day of the fifth month (10 June 1332) he moved towards the Yodo River (which flows through modern Osaka), camping on the southern side of the river.

News of these successes soon reached the Rokuhara, the Shogunate's headquarters in Kyoto. At first they feared that Kusunoki was planning to attack Kyoto, but it soon became clear that he had stopped on the Yodo River. The Rokuhara decided to send 5,000 horsemen to deal with Kusunoki, commanded by Suda and Takahashi. This army was made up of troops immediately available around Kyoto, and for once the Taiheiki gives a realistic figure for the size of an army. By the twentieth day of the fifth month (13 June 1331) the Bakufu army had reached the northern side of the Yodo River, where they camped for the night.

The battle took place around Watanabe Bridge on the Yodo River (now in the heart of modern Osaka, and the site of a railway station). Kusunoki split his army into three. The smallest part (300 strong) camped just to the south of the bridge. The other 1,700 were divided between the Tennoji temple (Shitenno-ji) and the Sumiyoshi temple, further to the south of the river and hidden from the approaching Bakufu army.

On the morning of the twenty-first day (14 June 1331) the Bakufu army concentrated to the north of the Watanabe Bridge. They could see the small force of 200-300 horsemen that had been left there, and mistakenly believed that was all there was of Kusunoki's army. They decided to attack across the river, some using fords and others crossing the bridge.

Kusunoki's men retreated towards the Tennoji temple (heading roughly south-east), offering little resistance. The Bakufu troops followed on behind, and soon reached the area north of the temple. At this point Kusunoki launched his counterattack. One part of his army attacked from the east of the Tennoji temple and swept around to attack the left wing of the Bakufu force. Another part attacked in wedge formation from the west gate of the temple, attacking the front of the Bakufu force. The third part attacked from the direction of the Sumiyoshi, further south, hitting the right wing of the Bakufu force.

Suda and Takahashi realised that they were in danger of being surrounded. They had also been drawn into an area unsuitable for cavalry, and so they decided to pull back towards Watanabe Bridge, where they intended to turn back and attack Kusunoki's men on more open ground. This sort of tactical retreat has always been a difficult manoeuvre for cavalry, and it was the undoing of the Bakufu force.

As they approached the river Suda and Takahashi ordered their men to stop and turn to face Kusunoki's troops, but the Bakufu cavalrymen had already decided to escape back across the river. In their panic they tried to rush across the Watanabe Bridge, and a number of men and horses were forced off the bridge, drowning in the river. According to the Taiheiki only a small remnant of the five thousand men returned to Kyoto, but given that the river could be forded their casualties were probably not that high. Suda and Takahashi both survived the battle, although didn't dare appear in public for some time afterwards.

Kusunoki was left in peace at the Tennoji temple for the next two months. When a small force under the command of Utsunomiya Jibu-no-tayu, who had recently arrived from the east, was sent to attack him Kusunoki pulled back, refusing to risk his army in a clash with a determined well organised force. Instead he tricked Utsunomiya into retreating (late August 1332). Kusunoki's successes forced the Bakufu to move much larger forces against him, triggering the final stage of the war which saw support for Go-Daigo increase and the Bakufu's power overthrown.

Taiheiki: A Chronicle of Medieval Japan, trans. Helen Craig McCullough. A modern English translation of the first twelve chapters of the Taiheiki, covering the period of the Genko War, a civil war that saw the Emperor Go-Daigo briefly overthrow the Shogunate and restore direct Imperial rule.
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A History of Japan, 1334-1615, Sir George Sansom. A classic history of Japan, covering the period from the fall of the Kamakura Shogunate in the 1330s to the battle of Sekigahara of 1615. A little dated now, but it still provides an excellent narrative history of this period, with more detail on the military events than in most more modern works.
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (16 October 2012), Battle of the Yodo River (14 June 1332), http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_yodo_river.html

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