Cagayan Battles(1582) – The Only Combat in History Between European Infantry and Samurai


Humans have been known to engage in fights since the earliest of times. History mentions thousands of battles in glorious historical writings. But there are some battles which were fought only once and were never repeated again. The 1582 Cagayan battles are examples of one such set of instances. It was a series of clashes between Spanish colonizers of the Philippines and Wokou (Japanese pirates). Also, it is the only recorded combat involving European regular soldiers and Samurai warriors. This unique battle pitted  musketeers, pikemen and Spanish rodeleros against mostly Japanese and Chinese merchants, fishermen, rōnin, and soldiers.

In the year 1580, a Japanese corsair (pirate ship) forced the natives of Cagayan, Philippine into submission. The Governor General of the Philippines wrote to King Philip II asking for assistance.


Japanese sampan-like boat; Image Source: wikimedia.org

Around 1573, the Philippine island of Luzon developed into a business area where Japanese began to exchange gold for silver. This exchange was carried out in the provinces of Cagayan, Metro Manila, and Pangasinan, specifically the Lingayen area. However, in 1580, a Japanese corsair manned by a ragtop group of pirates forced the natives of Cagayan into submission. They also asked the natives to swear to them allegiance.

At that time, the Philippines was under Spanish rule. On June 16, 1582, the Governor-General of the Philippines, Gonzalo Ronquillo de Peñalosa, wrote to the King of Spain, Philip II. A part of his letter mentioned: “The Japanese are the most bellicose people around here. They bring artillery and many arquebusiers and pikemen. They use defensive iron weapons for the body. All of which they have by industry of Portuguese, who have shown it to harm their souls… (sic.)”

In response to the letter, a captain of the Spanish navy, Juan Pablo de Carrión, was sent to resolve the situation. Carrión destroyed a wokou ship in the South China Sea. The pirate leader, Tay Fusa, retaliated with ten wokou ships. Carrión gathered his soldiers in seven boats to counter the attack.

Cagayan Battles
Image Source: 1,2

Upon receiving the letter, the King of Spain sent Captian Juan Pablo de Carrión to bring the situation under control. Carrión used the technical superiority of Western ships and cannoned a Wokou ship in the South China Sea. In response to the attack the pirate leader, Tay Fusa, sailed for the Philippine archipelago with ten ships. To counteract that, Captain Carrión managed to gather forty Spanish soldiers, armed to the teeth, along with seven boats. Out of the seven boats, five were small support vessels, one was a light ship, the San Yusepe, and another one was a galley, the Capitana.

While passing the  Bogueador cape, the Spanish fleet encountered a Wokou Sampan. Carrión, although outnumbered by the Wokou, engaged in naval battle eventually boarding it. Soon the deck became a battlefield and the Spanish troops managed to defeat the pirates. 

Cagayan_battles
Image Source: INVIC TVS via Twitter

After gathering the Spanish soldiers and boats, Carrión started sailing. As they passed the Bogueador cape, they encountered a Japanese pirate ship, the Wokou Sampan, which had arrived recently at the coast. The pirate sailors had been abusing the native population of that region. The Japanese ships were much larger and their number was far superior, yet the Spanish captain engaged in a naval battle with the sampan. The Spanish troops even managed to board the ship. But on boarding the ship, they faced armored Japanese ronin (Samurai without a lord or master) weilding katanas.

The deck of sampan soon turned into a battlefield. The Spanish pikemen were at the front, and the arquebusiers as well as musketeers at the rear. On the deck of the ship, because the Japanese were superior in number, the Spaniards could not move forward. The Spanish soldiers were much more experienced with firearms than the pirates, and their armor and weaponry were of far superior quality. Due to this and the improvised parapet, the Spanish troops eventually defeated the Wokou. Many Japanese jumped into the water to save themselves, but most of them drowned due to the weight of the armor.

The Spanish flotilla continued down the Cagayán River and found a fleet of eighteen sampans. After hours of combat, the Wokou decided to negotiate a surrender. The negotiation didn’t worked and Wokou attacked again with six hundred soldiers, but they were defeated and the  Spaniards took away the Japanese weapons as trophies. After the battle, the region was pacified and Carrión founded the city of Nueva Segovia, today called Lal-lo.

Church of of Nueva Segovia
Church of of Nueva Segovia; Image Source: wikimedia.org

After gaining another victory, the Spanish troops continued down the Cagayán River. Soon, they came across a fleet of eighteen sampans. The Spanish flotilla forced their way through using artillery, and disembarked onto the shore. There they dug trenches, erected artillery, and continued bombarding the pirates. Due to the constant attack, the Wokou decided to negotiate a surrender. Carrión ordered them to leave Luzon. The pirates demanded a compensation in gold for the losses they would suffer if they left. This demand was instantly denied by Carrión.

After being denied, the Wokou decided to attack by land with a strong force of six hundred soldiers. The Spanish trenches endured the first assault and then another. When they saw their pikes being snatched by Wokou soldiers, the they oiled the shafts of their pikes making it difficult to grasp. The third attack almost breached the trenches where the Spanish troop was located. There were only thirty soldiers remaining in the troop and they were running low on gunpowder. So, they left the trenches and attacked routing the remaining Wokou. After defeating the Wokou, they launched an attack against the remaining Japanese, stabbing most of them. Some Japanese saved themselves by running away. The Spaniards took the Japanese weapons that had been left on the battlefield as trophies which included katanas and beautiful armor.

After the battle, the region was pacified. When reinforcements arrived , Carrión founded in the area the city of Nueva Segovia. Nowadays it is known as Lal-lo. Despite this, the presence of pirate activity continued in Lingayén Bay, albeit in a less troublesome way.
[sources: wikipedia.org, military.wikia.com, wikipedia.orgdbpedia.org]



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