The Battle of Xiaoting was one of the three major battles of China's Three Kingdoms period; after the kingdom of Wu invaded Jing province a few years earlier, the state of Shu amassed an army to retake it but they were halted and defeated decisively in said battle.
The usual reasoning for the battle was that Shu's sovereign Liu Bei made tactical blunders which were taken advantage of by Wu's commander Lu Xun: landing his naval forces instead of attacking by river and land; overextending his supply lines; forgoing advantageous mountainous terrain; overextending his camps; and the most fatal of them all, relocating his camps into the nearby forest which was easily set on fire.
However, even before the outset of the invasion, Shu had a number of large setbacks which leads me to question if the invasion was doomed from the start. They are, in no particular order:
- No advantage in numbers: I'm not certain of the exact army strengths, but it seems that they were about the same magnitude
- Hasty invasion: Shu had only just captured Yi province
- Well prepared defenders: Wu invaded Jing province with the full expectation of a large counterattack, and had prepared accordingly, such as treating the citizens with benevolence to prevent possible uprisings
- Loss of key personnel: in the preceding years, Shu not only lost a large portion of its best generals and advisors, those left did not accompany the invasion. Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, Huang Zhong, Fa Zheng and Pang Tong had all died; Zhao Yun, Wei Yan and Zhuge Liang all stayed back to defend from a possible Wei invasion.
In other words, although the lack of able advisors lead to Liu Bei making key mistakes, even if those mistakes were not made, it seems that Shu would have lost the invasion eventually anyway. With the odds stacked so far against them, the only question was when their invasion would be repulsed.
My question is, was the invasion doomed for Shu from the start? Or did Shu have a fair chance of succeeding in retaking Jing province?