The Battle of Nagashino (長篠の戦い Nagashino no Tatakai ) took place in 1575 near Nagashino Castle (長篠城) on the plain of Shitaragahara (設楽原) in the Mikawa province (三河) of Japan. Forces under Takeda Katsuyori (武田勝頼) had besieged the castle since the 17 June; Okudaira Sadamasa (奥平貞昌), a Tokugawa vassal, commanded the defending force. The Takeda forces attacked the castle because it threatened Takeda's supply lines.
Both Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川家康) and Oda Nobunaga (織田信長) sent troops to break the siege and their combined forces defeated Takeda Katsuyori (武田勝頼). Nobunaga's skillful use of firearms to defeat Takeda's cavalry tactics is often cited as a turning point in Japanese warfare; many cite it as the first 'modern' Japanese battle. In fact, the cavalry charge had been introduced only a generation earlier by Katsuyori's father, Takeda Shingen (武田信玄). Furthermore, firearms had already been used in other battles. Oda Nobunaga's innovation was the wooden stockades and rotating volleys of fire which led to a decisive victory at Nagashino.
According to the Shinchō kōki Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu brought a total force of 38,000 men to relieve the siege on the castle by Takeda Katsuyori. Of Takeda's original 15,000 besiegers, only 12,000 faced the Oda-Tokugawa army in this battle. Oda and Tokugawa positioned their men across the plain from the castle, behind the Rengogawa (連吾川), a small stream whose steep banks would slow down the cavalry charges for which the Takeda clan was known.
Seeking to protect his arquebusiers, which he would later become famous for, Nobunaga built a number of wooden stockades, setting up his gunners to attack the Takeda cavalry in volleys. The stockades served to blunt the force of charging cavalry, provide protection from sword blows and spear thrusts, and provide limited protection from arrows. Ports or gates in the staggered and overlapping stockades were positioned to channel the cavalry charges into lanes where they would be vulnerable to further gunfire, arrows, and sword and spear thrusts from the stockade's defenders. There were also approximately three gunmen for every four Takeda mounted samurai. Of Oda's forces, an estimated 3,000 troops were samurai arquebusiers, and they were placed under the command of his horo-shu (母衣衆), or elite bodyguards. Oda sent out small forces against Takeda to feign frontal attacks, which caused Katsuyori to move against Oda's forces.
The Takeda army emerged from the forest and found themselves 200–400 meters from the Oda-Tokugawa stockades. The short distance, the great power of the Takeda cavalry charge, and the heavy rain, which Katsuyori assumed would render the matchlock guns useless, encouraged Takeda to order the charge. Takeda's cavalry was feared by both the Oda and Tokugawa forces, who had suffered a defeat at the Battle of Mikatagahara (三方原の戦い).
The horses slowed to cross the stream and were fired upon as they crested the streambed within 50 meters of the enemy. This was considered the optimum distance to penetrate the armor of the cavalry. In typical military strategy, the success of a cavalry charge depends on the infantry breaking ranks so that the cavalry can mow them down. If the infantry does not break, however, cavalry charges will often fail—with even trained warhorses refusing to advance into the solid ranks of opponents.
Between the continuous fire of the arquebusiers’ volleys and the rigid control of the horo-shu, the Oda forces stood their ground and were able to repel every charge. Ashigaru spearmen stabbed through or over the stockades at horses that made it past the initial volleys, and samurai, with swords and shorter spears, engaged in single combat with Takeda warriors who made it past the wooden barricades. Strong defenses on the ends of the lines prevented Takeda forces from flanking the stockades. By mid-afternoon, the Takeda broke and fled, and the Oda forces vigorously pursued. According to Shinchō kōki, Takeda suffered a loss of 10,000 men, two-thirds of his original besieging force. However this figure is excessively high and is most likely an exaggeration. Other contemporary sources gives a number of 1000 killed in battle and another 2000 during the rout, though this is likely excessively low. Eight of his famous 'Twenty-Four Generals' were killed in this battle, including Baba Nobuharu (馬場信春), Yamagata Masakage (山県昌景), and Naito Masatoyo (内藤昌豊).
The Battle of Nagashino and the last years of the Takeda clan are dramatised in Akira Kurosawa's 1980 film Kagemusha (Shadow Warrior). In the film, a wayward thief is recruited to impersonate the dead Takeda Shingen in the years preceding Takeda Katsuyori's defeat at Nagashino. At the end of the film, the thief witnesses the battle and at its end he is the last one to hold up the Takeda banner.
The Battle of Nagashino is a significant part of many PlayStation 2 games, predominantly Koei's Kessen III and Samurai Warriors. If Shingen is the playable character in Samurai Warriors, there is a 'what-if' situation which examines what would have happened if he had not died: Shingen successfully reads the feint, and does not charge. It then starts raining, rendering the arquebuses worthless except as clubs. Only then would the Takeda cavalry charge, completely routing the Oda-Tokugawa combined forces. Likewise, this can be done in Uesugi Kenshin's Story in Samurai Warriors 2 where due to a historical tangent, Kenshin joins the living Shingen at Nagashino. (Although perhaps ironically or humorously, in at least one version of SW2's raining at Nagashino, Nobunaga responds by ordering his arquebusiers: "Simply use your rifles to beat them to death.")
- Karasawa Genba
- Torii Suneemon – Foot-soldier who was crucified during the siege of Nagashino Castle.
- Lamers, Jereon P (2000). 'Japonius Tyrannus'. Leiden: Hotei Publishing.
- Turnbull, Stephen (1998). 'The Samurai Sourcebook'. London: Cassell & Co.
- Turnbull, Stephen (2000). 'Nagashino 1575: Slaughter at the Barricades'. Oxford: Osprey Publishing.
- Battle of Nagashino animated battle map by Jonathan Webb
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