Khubilai Khan's Lost Fleet: In Search of a Legendary Armada.


240 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-1-55365-273-1
DDC 951'.025





Reviewed by Lisa Arsenault

Lisa Arsenault is a high-school English teacher who is involved in
several ministry campaigns to increase literacy.


In 1281 the great Mongol emperor of China, Khubilai Khan, sent a huge armada against Japan to conquer and annex the island. A previous attempt, in 1274, had not succeeded and so the Khan sent an even larger fleet. That armada, too, was repelled; this time it was largely dispersed by a hurricane at sea (called a kamikaze, or divine wind, by the jubilant Japanese whom it saved).


The Mongols, under the generalship of Genghis and Khubilai Khan, had extended their territory west to the gates of Vienna, south to Persia, and east to China. Pushing further east to conquer Japan was the next logical step. Seasoned Mongol warriors were well represented amongst the conscripted Korean and Han Chinese troops. The defenders were much fewer in number and were trained in the samurai tradition of single combat, which put them at a disadvantage against the Mongol phalanx system. With greater numbers and better armament the invading fleet should have been able to easily defeat the Japanese.


Photographs, diagrams, and detailed maps, along with notes, sources, and a comprehensive index, augment one’s reading of the text. The pivotal event of the sailing of the armada in 1281 is firmly grounded in a meticulous history of the events leading up to it. The rationale for the abortive attack and the ramifications for both contemporaries and future generations are explored in detail. Delgado makes a persuasive case for the application of the “kamikaze saviour wind” as a propaganda tool by the Japanese during the Second World War. The story, long dormant, was revived, mythologized, and used as incentive for thousands of young Japanese to commit suicide attacks against the allies. The word is instantly recognizable to this day. Recent assessment of artifacts dredged from the sea using sophisticated equipment, however, indicates that divine intervention played less of a role than did Mongol impatience and mismanagement, leading to the hasty construction of less than seaworthy ships. Further exploration and evaluation of artifacts may lead to a major reinterpretation of this event. I look forward to reading more about this fascinating period of history as more information comes to light.


Delgado, James P., “Khubilai Khan's Lost Fleet: In Search of a Legendary Armada.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 21, 2024,