"Misfortune befell us" - The Battle of Legnica

9 April 1241 in Silesia, the Mongol host of Orda and Baidar crushed the armies of the Polish states under the command of Henry the Pious, Duke of Silesia at the Battle of Legnica (or Liegnitz / Wahlstatt).

"Gorze się nam stało!" ("Misfortune befell us", Henry II, High Duke of Poland, before the Battle of Legnica)

The Polish history painter Jan Matejko's (1838 – 1893)  almost expressionist imagination
of Henry II the Pious (ca 1880)

Kiev and Novgorod had fallen and put the sword already when the Mongols pushed into Poland and Hungary in the winter of 1240/41. Then, the hosts of the Polish princes had been defeated at Tursk and Chmielnik already earlier in 1241, cities had been sacked, the rich trade centre of Kraków among them. Panic spread through Poland. And High Duke Henry's call for support to the Holy Roman Empire and Frederick II fell on deaf ears. The emperor was far too occupied with the city states of Northern Italy. Thus, after abandoning the Silesian capital of Wrocław, Henry was able to assemble an army of only about 4,000 men, mostly knights and no infantry and archers to speak of. His brother-in-law, Wenceslaus I, King of Bohemia, was two days away with a much larger relief force, but arrived to late on the scene. By then, the Mongol army, twice the size and much better equipped and disciplined than Henry's, already had brought the Silesians to bay.

Mongol heavy cavalry in battle (13th or 14th century)

The Polish and Teutonic knights and the few Templars and Hospitallers present might have been a match for everyone in single combat, but the battle-tried Mongols made short work of them with their usual hit-and-run tactics, followed by feigning a rout and then turning on the surprised knights with their own shock troops. High Duke Henry II, celebrated as a paragon of chivalry and piety by his contemporaries, fell in battle. Most of his men did, too. His head was cut off, impaled on a lance and paraded before the city walls of Legnica, held by his son Boleslaw. Then the Mongols retreated back to the Dnieper.

The head of Henry II of Silesia on a long lance 

If the invasion of Poland was just a sideshow to secure the right flank of Subutai's forces in Hungary - he defeated the Hungarian King Béla IV decisively at the Battle of Mohi the next day - or if the death of the Great Khan Ögedei in Karakorum and the ensuing struggle for power called the Mongolian invasion forces back to Central Asia is not clear - the Mongol idea to reach the Great Ocean, the Atlantic was never realised after the Battles of Legnica and Mohi. The battle itself is commemorated to this day in the St. Hedwig's church of Legnickie Pole near the battlefield with an annual mass on April 9th, while the Mongol Invasion of Central Europe probably strengthened the inherent fear of the Westerners of what might come out of the steppes to threaten them again.

And more about the Battle of Legnica on