|▲ Mural at Hangpaduri Historical site, Jeju. Photo by Robert Neff
In June 1270, an elite Goryeo unit – the Sambyeolcho (Three Elite Patrols) – under the command of General Bae Jung-son, seized Kangwha Island and declared its independence. Wang On, a relative of the Goryeo monarch, was chosen as the king of the rebels. Over the next year the rebels moved from Kangwha Island to the fortified island of Jindo where they waged a campaign of raiding and pillaging upon the government and Mongol forces in the southern part of the Korean peninsula. Negotiation attempts were made by the Goryeo and Mongol governments but were rebuked by the rebels which eventually led the Mongolian khan to order the rebels to be destroyed once and for all.
In early July 1271, the combined Goryeo-Mongol army began making preparations for the assault of the island. Weapons including crude flame throwers (hwa-chang) and crude firebombs thrown by catapults known as (hwa-po) were bought for the assault.
But time was quickly running out. The rainy season, with its sweltering heat and stormy seas, would soon begin and make an assault much more difficult and consequently result in a greater loss of ships and men.
On July 11 a half-hearted assault was launched but failed. This was followed by an even larger one on July 20 which involved a fleet of three hundred ships. It, like the previous one, was easily repulsed by the rebels, who began to look upon the Goryeo-Mongol forces with disdain.
Finally, on July 25, the Goryeo-Mongol forces threw everything they had at the rebel defenders. It was unlike any of the previous attacks, and the over-confident rebels, unprepared, were routed. Yongjang Fortress and the temple that served as its palace were burnt to the ground.
The fall of the rebel fortress was so sudden that according to one account, King On mounted his horse backward in an attempt to flee the Goryeo-Mongol army. His efforts were in vain and he and his son, Hang, were soon captured. They were both executed.
Completely demoralized, the rebel army divided into two groups. One group, led by General Bae, fought to the bitter end. Some of the women who accompanied them chose to commit suicide rather than be captured by the government forces. They threw themselves into a river and drowned. It is said that even now, especially when it rains, the cries of the women can still be heard.
The other group of rebels, led by Kim T’ongjong, escaped to Tamna (Jeju Island). It had been a costly defeat. More than 10,000 men and women and several tens of warships were captured by the government forces including the hostages, supplies and treasure that had been taken from Kangwha Island.
Despite the losses, the rebels were still a formidable force. From their fortifications on Tamna they practically controlled the sea off Korea’s southern coast. Throughout 1272, they continued to fortify the island and raid the southern coast of the peninsula in order to acquire badly-needed supplies.
By March 1273, the rebel raids had grown so frequent and daring that King Wonjeong feared that they might assault his capital and asked for fifty Mongol cavalrymen to help protect his palace.
The Mongols, too, had suffered at the hands of the rebels. Many of their ships being constructed in the Korean ports on the south coast in preparation for the invasion of Japan had been destroyed or captured during the raids. Realizing that an attack against Tamna could prove extremely costly not only in men and ships but also in time, the Mongols against sought to negotiate with rebels.
Several of Kim T’ongjong’s relatives were found and then treated nicely by the government forces. They were wined and dined, given gifts, and then sent to the island in hopes of persuading Kim T’ongjong to come to a compromise, but he refused.
Unable to tolerate the rebels’ insolence any further, a large force of men and ships were sent south in preparation to invade the island, but from the beginning this force was plagued with mishaps. Apparently, many of the ships were faultily constructed and sank on their own accord while others were destroyed in the violent storms that frequented the coast.
Finally in May, an invasion fleet of 160 ships and a combined Goryeo-Mongol army of between 9,000 and 12,000 men set sail from the southern coast of Jeolla province. The weather, however, continued to plague their efforts, and the fleet was forced to anchor off the Ch’uja Islands (about half-way between the mainland and Tamna) for the night due to a storm. The following morning they arrived off the coast of Tamna but, because of the wind and rough seas were unable to land until Kim Pangyong, a Goryeo general, “appealed to the heavens and the wind ceased.”
The battle was short-lived. The Goryeo-Mongol army quickly overran the outer walls of Hangpaduri, the main fortress, forcing the rebels back behind the inner walls. After several volleys of fire arrows set part of the fortress on fire, it capitulated. Some of the rebel leaders were executed immediately, but Kim T’ongjong and about seventy men managed to escape into the countryside and hid on the slopes of Mount Halla. Within the next couple of months they were all dead. The rebels, for the most part, died fighting in a final pitched battle and Kim, the only survivor, rather than be captured, elected to commit suicide on Halla’s slopes.
Thus the revolt of the Three Elite Patrols ended. The original Tamna inhabitants were allowed to remain on the island, a permanent guard of 500 Mongol and 1,000 Goryeo soldiers to protect them and to ensure no further uprisings.
With the rebellion successfully crushed, the Mongols were able to prepare for their ill-fated attempt to invade Japan. But, in the words of noted historian Andrei Lankov, that is another story.