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Hurricanes: Science and Society
1281- Hakata Bay Typhoon

In 1273, the Mongol emperor, Kublai Khan, began his invasions to conquer Japan. On August 15, 1281, a massive typhoon struck Japan, destroying a large Mongol fleet that was preparing to launch its second attempt at attacking the island. A combined force of 4,400 vessels and some 140,000 soldiers were retreating to sea in Hakata Bay, Kyushu, Japan, when the huge typhoon hit, ending the invasion attempt. The invading forces suffered devastating causalities- at least half of the Mongol warriors drowned, with only a few hundred ships remaining. Any Mongol soldiers that managed to reach land either starved, due to lost provisions, or were killed by Japanese infantry and samurai warriors. With such significant losses, the Mongols were forced to abandon their plans of invading Japan, saving it from foreign conquest. Only a small fraction of Kublai Khan’s original armed forces returned from the expedition. This has been recorded as one of the largest and most disastrous attempts at a naval invasion in history. The failed invasion also set a limit on the Mongolian expansion, and ranks as a nation-defining event in Japanese history.

Fast Facts:

  • Another typhoon had foiled an earlier effort by the Mongolian fleet as it attempted to invade Japan in 1274. The Mongolian forces comprised approximately 30,000-40,000 men and an estimated 500-900 vessels. As the ships tried to safely ride out the storm by sailing into Hakata Bay, the typhoon hit, sinking approximately one-third of the fleet. An estimated 13,000 of Kublai Khan’s men drowned.
  • Literally meaning “divine wind”, the Japanese term kamikaze was coined in honor of the 1281 typhoon, as it was perceived to be a gift from the gods (to deliver their land from the enemy invaders). The term was later used in World War II to refer to the Japanese suicide pilots who deliberately crashed their planes into enemy targets (mostly ships).


Randy Cerveny. July/August 2007. Weather and Mongols- How the forces of nature helped shape an empire. Weatherwise. Pp 23-27.
Divine Wind. K. Emanuel (will need to double check pages)
Wikipedia- Mongol invasions of Japan