The Number of Japanese Troops Killed
Currently most scholars on the mainland agreed that more than 1000 Japanese troops were killed during the Battle of Pingxingguan. <Translator’s note: The number has decreased steadily through the years from absurd numbers such as tens of thousands killed>. But as our analysis above indicates, this rough figure does not provide any information on the specific units destroyed or the original strength of the units, and hence leaves many questions unanswered. It will be much easier to arrive at the number of Japanese killed in the battle if one understands the units that were destroyed at Pingxingguan.
The viewpoint that the 8th Route Army killed more than 1000 enemy troops was based on the memoirs of the participants of the battle such as Yang Dezhi or the reports of the front line units. The earliest and most important figure on the number of enemy troops killed was the report wired by Lin Biao, commander of the 115th Division, on the second day of the battle i.e. 26th September, 1937. The report indicated that “Yesterday fought against the 21st Regiment for the whole day and night, and killed more than 1000 enemy troops”.
When both the participant’s memoir and after action reports sent immediately after the report are on hand, the numbers are generally believable. Moreover, with more than 4000 mainline combat troops taking part in an ambush, killing more than 1000 non-combat troops is not impossible. But the question is, other than the battle that blocked the relief forces of the Japanese 3rd Battalion which is quite difficult to perform a detailed analysis, the main forces annihilated in the battle were supply units, and it is important to clarify what is the strength of these units. According to some scholars from Taiwan, the two Japanese forces only had 283 men, including 86 men in the supply column, 6 staff officers from the depot and 15 soldiers, plus the 176 men of the 矢岛company. This is a key reason why these scholars are adamant that the 8th Route Army did not achieve any important results in this battle.
Now which is more accurate: more than 1000 killed or 200-300 men skilled? Let’s start from the historical records. According to the after action report of the 6th Army Depot, we can see that this force consisted of “7 men from the depot, 15 supply troops, 176 men of the 矢岛company” for a total of 198 men. However, there were also the 中西company which followed the first group, plus one squad of reinforcing infantry as well as some wounded soldiers being transported. It is not hard to see that the Taiwanese scholars have neglected to include the latter contingent. Although the strength of the中西company was not stated in the documents, its establishment was probably similar to that of the矢岛company. Now it is known that the矢岛company consisted of 3 motorized squads, one maintenance squad, one baggage squad and an escort squad for a total of 176 men and 50 vehicles. Thus the中西company with its 30 vehicles should have at least 110 men. With the reinforcing squad of infantry contributing about another 50 troops, this force should number at least 360 men, instead of the less than 200 men claimed by the Taiwanese scholars. As for the supply group of the 21st Regiments with its various supply and baggage groups, there was a total of “about 70 supply trucks, with 15 supply troops, and 70 special purpose troops” in addition to “the 高桥squad of the 神代company as well as some 4-5 troops returning from convalescence acting as guards” So 15 supply troops and 70 special purpose troops gives a total of 85 men, and the 高桥cavalry should have an establishment of 50-60 men, so together with the 4-5 troops returning from convalescence produces an estimate of 120-150 men. Furthermore, besides the supply troops and their escort squads, with so much supply there should be at least an equal number of laborers (Korean or Chinese). Thus the two group together should total 700-800 men (Translator’s note: I thought we are talking about Japanese troops killed here, not some poor Chinese souls working for the other side), and including the battles involving the relief force, it is not hard to have more than 1000 Japanese killed.
However, from the Japanese after action reports, the group moving eastwards toward LingQiu was not totally destroyed. Considering that both company commanders escaped to file detailed reports regarding the ambush and the subsequent breakout, it is probable that part of the force managed to escape from the encirclement. However, the two Japanese after action report did not agree on the losses. The report from the 6th Army Depot Motorized Group stated that “the losses for the battle were as follows: 41 dead and 50 wounded or missing in action.” However, when this report is compared to that of the 3rd Battalion as well as the work by 儿岛襄 who made extensive use of Japanese war-time material, it can be concluded that the above report is probably not complete.
According to the report by the 3rd Battalion, when the regimental commander received news of the ambush at 11 a.m., he immediately sent 4 companies (minus 4 squads) to mount a relief operation. The troops in relief force were riding in trucks when they came under fire at 关沟and forced to dismount and continue their advance. However, since the blocking force of the 8th Route Army was fairly strong, the Japanese relief force found the going very rough and was unable to complete its mission. Its report indicated that it faced off with the enemy until night fell, and even then it had no information on the fate of the ambushed troops. “Not until the 28th, when it was able to enter the battlefield, that it discovered that the motorized column appeared to be ambushed and annihilated, with more than 100 vehicles destroyed, with the wreck of one vehicle every 20 meters. The dead, including Lieutenant 新庄淳and numerous others, and burnt bodies lying in the driving compartment of the vehicles, all made for a horrible sight”. 儿岛襄, in his book on the battle of Pingxingguan, stated that of the 81 vehicles attacked, only 5 escaped. This means that the中西company which followed the矢岛company into the trap also suffered heavy losses. Based on these evidence, the two companies together should have suffered higher losses than indicated in their own reports.
Moreover, one detail has been overlooked in previous studies on the battle, namely, there should be a group of wounded soldiers returning from Ling Qiu after the battle on the 23rd-24th. It is known that the 3rd Battalion alone suffered 22 dead and 80 wounded in battle. Although the lightly wounded men would have been dressed up and stayed in the battle, the more seriously wounded and the dead would have been transported back. Since the report by the Depot troops did not include the losses suffered by the squad which was sent as reinforcement, its report on casualties will naturally be incomplete.
<Translator’s note: skipped a section mainly on description of the battle scene>
Here, we should also analyze and calculate the losses suffered by the relief force sent by the 3rd Battalion on the 25th. According to the records of the 21st Regiment, the relief force consisted of the following troops from the 3rd Battalion: the 9th Company (minus one squad), the 10th Company (minus one squad), the 11th Company (minus 2 squads) and the 12th Company. Note that although these forces conducted a raid in the early hours of the 25th in the direction of Pingxingguan where it incurred minimal losses, the bulk of the forces were immediately recalled and sent to rescue the ambushed troops. The troops left behind were attacked by Kuomintang troops in the evening, but there was no record of a major battle. This can be confirmed by after action reports by the Kuomintang troops.
It can be seen that there is no major action between the 3rd Battalion and the Kuomintang troops, and the losses suffered by the 3rd Battalion would most likely have been inflicted by the 8th Route Army on the relief force. Based on the 3rd Battalion’s report, the 9th Company suffered 6 dead and 21 wounded, the 10th Company 4 dead and 5 wounded, the 11th Company 3 dead and 31 wounded, and the 12th Company 25 dead and 3 wounded, for a total of 98 casualties. Most of these casualties should have been inflicted by the 8th Route Army.
Consolidating the Japanese reports, it can be seen that in this ambush the main Japanese force destroyed was the supply troops from Ling Qiu to Pingxingguan and the cavalry squad which acted as the escort, totaling 120-150 men. The number of men killed in the other force is unknown, but a conservative estimate is that about half of the force was wiped out, i.e. about 200. When the casualties of the 3rd Battalion and the wounded soldiers returning from Ling Qiu are added to the total, the number of Japanese troops killed should be 4-500 men.
This figure was actually confirmed by Zhu De shortly after the battle. At the end of 1937 he stated in one of his works in the battle “they lost 500 men”. <Translator’s note: next part skipped>
Based on the above, it can be confirmed that the viewpoint that states more than 1000, or the other view that less than 200 Japanese were killed are both debatable. Although there is still room for further research, it is closer to the truth to say that the battle resulted in the death of several hundred enemy troops.
<Translator’s note: next section on captured weapons skipped except for the concluding paragraph>
Based on the above, in the entire battle of Pingxingguan, the 115th Division only captured about 100 rifles, 10 light machine guns, 1 gun, 2000 shells and some clothing and food of the Japanese 21st Regiment. At the same time it destroyed about 70 trucks and 70 horse-drawn carts; scores of horses were also killed.
Losses suffered by the 115th Division
As for the casualties of the 115th Division, the estimates tend to increase with time. As of now, there are at least 4-5 different figures. They are listed below in chronological order:
The earliest figure appeared in the after action report sent by Lin Biao and Nie Ronzhen to Zhu De and Peng Dehuai, in which it was stated that “our losses amounted to only 300-400”. The following day, after the troops had left the battlefield, they reported further that “we suffered 300-400 casualties; two regimental commander, 2 battalion commanders were wounded; further investigation still proceeding”. After 10 days. i.e. on 3rd Octobter, 1937, when Zhu De sought citation and rewards for the 115th Division, he stated that “ <translator’s note: list skipped> … We suffered more than 600 casualties, included two deputy regimental commanders and two battalion commanders.” A few years later, in a pamphlet published by the Propaganda Unit of the 8th Route Army titled “The 8th Route Army and the New 4th Army during the War of Resistance against Japan”, it was stated for the first time that the 115th Division suffered almost a thousand casualties. After the recent liberalization, a new view was presented based on memoirs of medical staff in the Field Hospital Unit of the 115th Division in which it was claimed that during the 4-5 days after the battle, the hospital took in 800-900 men, together with over 200 killed in action, and 300-400 lightly wounded who did not need to be hospitalized, for a total of some 1500 casualties. The latest figure appeared in a public interview by Xu Yan in 2005, who claimed that the 8th Route Army lost 800 killed and wounded even though it had the benefit of superior position; most of the casualties were old cadres who had taken part in the Long March.
Which of these views is more accurate? Common sense dictates that the report of the commanding officer, Lin Biao, should be more reliable. The drawback of this is that there is little time to consolidate and tabulate losses due to the lack of time, and it is possible to miss some information. There is no change in the total number of casualties from the first report filed immediately after the battle to the next report filed after the troops were out of the battle; the only difference being that more details regarding losses among the officers at the battalion level were added and also there was an additional note saying that “investigation of further losses proceeding”. This implies that Lin Biao only had the total number of casualties but did not have a detailed list of the names and rank of the dead and the wounded. The accuracy of the report by Lin and Nie can be confirmed by the after action report of the 685th Regiment. In its detailed report, it was stated that the regiment lost 233 in killed and wounded in the fight. Since it is known that this regiment was located closest to the main Japanese forces near Pingxingguan and hence bore the brunt of the fighting in intercepting the Japanese relief force, it was involved in the heaviest fighting of all and hence suffered much greater losses than the other two regiments. It is also known that the 687th Regiment was not involved in the fighting, and even if it had been involved, it could not have taken part until during the afternoon, and was unlikely to have suffered too many casualties. Thus if we believe that 685th Regiment suffered twice as many casualties as the 686th Regiment, and that the 686th Regiment suffered twice as many casualties as the 687th Regiment is a reasonable estimate, then the total number of casualties would not have exceed 400 odd men, and it is impossible to be as high as 800 or even 1000 or 1500. We can get even more support for this figure from the wire sent by Zhu De 10 days after the battle seeking for benefits for the killed and wounded.
Zhu De’s report included description of the battles, captured weapons and losses since the main elements of the 2 divisions under the 8th Route Army entered Shansi. It is difficult to imagine that Zhu De would reduce the number of casualties by more than half when he was seeking benefits for the deceased, given the lack of financial resources at that time. Moreover, any money given need to be mapped to specific individuals and subject to audits, hence it is unlikely that Zhu would exaggerate numbers. Hence the number in this wire should be quite accurate.
<Translator’s note: skipped some details here>
Hence we can say that the majority of the losses in Zhu De’s report of more than 600 casualties should be attributed to the 115th Division at the Battle of Pingxingguan. Of course, other units of the 8th Route Army including the Independent Regiment of the 115th Division also fought with the Japanese during September, and they had also captured enemy weapons and suffered casualties, but the total number for the various battles should be less than 200. Since the Battle of Pingxingguan was the largest battle with the highest casualties, if the 8th Route Army suffered more than 600 casualties, it is reasonable that 400+ casualties were incurred during the Pingxingguan battle, and it is clear that other figures based on memory or propaganda material are not very reliable.