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Mao Zedong, observing the situation from his far-off base at Yan'an, agreed strongly that Chiang should not defend Wuhan to the death. 'Supposing that Wuhan cannot be defended,' he wrote in mid-October, as the Nationalists made their last stand at the city, 'many new things will emerge in the situation of the war.' Among these would be the continued improvement of the relationship between the Nationalists and the Communists, a more intense mobilization of the population, and the expansion of guerrilla warfare tactics. 'The purpose of the struggle to defend Wuhan is to drain the enemy, on the one hand, and win time, on the other,' Mao continued, 'so that the work in the whole country will make progress, and not a last-ditch defense of a strong point.'
Scenes from Shanghai were now repeated, nearly a year later, in Wuhan. The government made frantic moves to ship the most important industrial plant upriver before the Japanese reached the city.
As he had done in Nanjing, Chiang remained in command until the very last day. Chiang called his senior officers and told them to depart. 'You must go first,' Chiang told them, 'I'll leave soon after.' That evening, at 10 o'clock, Chiang and his wife Meiling travelled to the city's airfield and left for Hengyang, 450 km south of Wuhan. As they were leaving, guns boomed and Wuhan burned. They had departed just in time: the next day the city was surrounded on all sides, and fell to the forces of the Imperial Japanese Army.
The fighting exposed the tactical and logistical weakness of the Chinese forces. In November 1938, at the first Nanyue Military Conference in Hunan, Chiang launched a scathing attack on the assembled high-level officers. He stated that large numbers of troops had deserted and that in many areas where the National Army operated the locals had fled. He criticized the use of outmoded defensive tactics. Chiang was irate about staff work: Staff officers had failed to rotate troops in a coordinated way, so that parts of a front had been left empty as replacements had not arrived after a particular unit had withdrawn.
Rather than building up a position in depth, he stated, officers had created just a single defensive line, knowing nothing better than simply building up the numbers. According to Chiang, orders had frequently not been implemented, commanders had been unable to deploy units quickly and flexibly, and they had failed to gather intelligence about enemy movements. Plans had not been kept secret and no sentry posts had been set out, so that the Japanese could easily reconnoitre Chinese positions. Opportunities for counter-offensives had been lost because commanders threw in reserves too quickly.
Staff officers had failed to file battle reports, war diaries, and divisional accounts, so that higher level officers did not know what equipment and ammunition had been spent where, what had been allocated to what units, and how much remained.
Communications within divisions had usually been good, according to Chiang, but it had not been uncommon, he lamented, for divisions not to lay telephone and telegraph cables to higher command centers or neighboring units. This was one way of avoiding orders to attack.
All eyes now turned to the new center of resistance, the temporary capital at Chongqing. Chiang's 'Free China' now meant Sichuan, Hunan and Henan provinces, but not all Jiangsu or Zhejiang. The east of China was definitively lost, and along with it China's major customs revenues, the country's most fertile provinces, and its most advanced infrastructure. The center of political gravity moved far to the west, into country that the Nationalists had never controlled. In the north meanwhile, the Japanese and the CCP were in an uneasy stalemate. Mao's army could make it impossible for the Japanese to hold the deep countryside, but the Communists could not defeat the occupiers.
Repeatedly, observers had predicted that each new disaster must surely see the end of Chinese resistance and a swift surrender, or at least a negotiated solution in which the government would have to accept yet harsher conditions from Tokyo. But even after the defenders had been forced from Shanghai, from Nanjing and from Wuhan, China was still fighting. Yet it was fighting alone.
For years, the west of the country, particularly Sichuan province, had been at the outer edge of what was considered to be China, and had never been properly under Nationalist control. Now it was the center of government operations while the eastern heartland was under occupation. The forced move west turned the government's mind to solidifying unification with areas like Tibet and Xinjiang, both of which had edged out of Chinese influence because of the weakness of the Republican governments.
The first phase of the war illustrated the strengths of the Japanese military. They had the navy, the artillery, the tanks, the amphibious skills, and airforce to deploy rapidly and massively. It also showed a severe weakness: the Japanese lacked a clear military strategy. The battle of Taierzhuang formed a good illustration of the fact that the Japanese found it difficult to impose a common strategic view over forces operating at different fronts. Individual divisional commanders, eager for glory, had a tendency to rush forward beyond their supply lines, endangering the cohesion of the whole front.
Virtually all major cities were in Japanese hands by the end of 1938. Yet still the Chinese did not surrender. Japan’s military strategy was to seize the cities and key lines of communication and transportation. From this network of points and lines, control would expand into the countryside, through Chinese agents. Most of the active collaborators were local elites or sometimes bandit gangs. Yet Chinese resistance continued. Local collaborators proved ineffective or even secretly anti-Japanese while genuine collaborators were subject to assassination by partisans.
For a more in-depth dive into the Japanese invasion of China during the Sino-Japanese war please check the illustrated history available on History Lapse here https://en.historylapse.org/japanese-in ... nd-of-1938