The Nationalist Army 193745

Chinese Army Uniform

Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and his deputy chief-of-staff General Pei Hsung-hsi (left), reviewing high-ranking Nationalist officers in Chungking, 1944. All wear standard Chinese Army officers' uniform with Sam Browne belts and, in most cases, breeches with high leather boots. Chiang is wearing his version of the service dress with the addition of an officer's mantle or cloak.

disciplined; while the 250,000 soldiers of Szechuan in the south-west were described as the worst-trained and equipped, most undisciplined and disloyal of all Chinese Nationalist troops.

During World War II the five divisions of Gen Stilwell's X-Force (later, the NCAC), and some of the Yunnan-based Y-Force. were raised to a quality largely unknown among the rest of the Chinese armies. Eroded by casualties - particularly among the trained pre-1937 officer corps -and by poverty of resources, and denied the modern equipment provided by the Allies for the Burma campaigns, most of these formations were under strength, badly fed, badly cared for. badly clothed and equipped, and badly led. with a combat value comparable to that of the marauding peasant levies of an earlier century. Historically, China's brutal military culture had given the peasant soldier no reward for victory beyond the opportunity to pillage, and no real emotional stake in any cause beyond his own immediate unit. Caution and cunning were admired; self-respect did not depend upon initiative and dash in the attack or endurance in defence. Unless success came quickly they tended to fall back: on the other hand, even after a headlong retreat in the face of the enemy the long-suffering peasant soldiers could sometimes be brought back to their duty after a short respite.

Weapons 1937-45

With an army which quickly rose to over 2 million men, and only a number of small local arsenals and arms factories, the Nationalist army faced a constant problem in arming its troops. By the early 1930s a bewildering array of rifles and machine guns from all over the industrial world had been imported at one time or other by the Chinese. With no central policy on arms purchasing, the various military regions and the virtual warlords who commanded them imported at whim for their own troops. This chronic lack of standardization was only partly addressed by the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War.

Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and his deputy chief-of-staff General Pei Hsung-hsi (left), reviewing high-ranking Nationalist officers in Chungking, 1944. All wear standard Chinese Army officers' uniform with Sam Browne belts and, in most cases, breeches with high leather boots. Chiang is wearing his version of the service dress with the addition of an officer's mantle or cloak.

OPPOSITE A Home guardsman on sentry duty at Pihu. Fukien province, in 1944. He wears a basic winter-weight uniform with a US M1917A1 steel helmet; this and the very similar British Mk I were not much worn by first-line troops by this date. This shows good detail of the typical waist-and-shoulder bandoliers; and note that he has been issued a knapsack of the type used only by the better equipped units in the 1930s. (IWM IB 4045C)

1930s Chinese Army

IWo 18-year-old conscripts, photographed in November 1942 firing a ZB26 light machine gun. Called up in July, these boys would have enjoyed only brief and sketchy training before being sent to the front; the high attrition rate in the Chinese Army demanded a constant supply of new fighters. The colour of the soldiers' winter-grade uniforms appears to be a dark shade of khaki rather than the more common faded blue-grey.

Year Old Army Uniform

IWo 18-year-old conscripts, photographed in November 1942 firing a ZB26 light machine gun. Called up in July, these boys would have enjoyed only brief and sketchy training before being sent to the front; the high attrition rate in the Chinese Army demanded a constant supply of new fighters. The colour of the soldiers' winter-grade uniforms appears to be a dark shade of khaki rather than the more common faded blue-grey.

By 1937 the predominant rifle of the Chinese armies was the 7.92mm German Mauser 98k which had been recommended by their German advisers in the early 1930s. The Mauser, imported in large numbers and soon under production in Chinese arsenals, was commonly known as the 'Chiang Kai-shek' rifle. Other rifles based on the Mauser design were also imported from Belgium and Czechoslovakia, as the FN24 and VZ24 in their rifle and carbine forms. The older Mauser Gewehr 88 was also widely used by China, and was produced as the Hanyang 88 in Chinese factories.

Many different types of machine gun were also imported during the 1930s - indeed, China was in several instances the only export customer for some of the more obscure European weapons. If an arms dealer could not sell his wares to the KMT government, he could always try his luck with one of the provincial army commanders. The predominant Chinese light machine gun was the excellent Czechoslovakian ZB26. imported and copied in large numbers. Other models imported included the Swiss ZE70. the Finnish Lahti, and the Soviet DP26. Machine guns were always in short supply and even the best Chinese forces only had about one-third the allocation per division enjoyed by the Japanese troops.

The Chinese had historically been poor in modern artillery, and most field guns were of the light and mountain classes. This shortage is illustrated by the fact that in 1941 there were only 800 artillery pieces in the entire Chinese Army. During his early campaigns Chiang Kai-shek had acquired the habit of keeping as much of the artillery as possible under his own control, to weaken any potentially mutinous subordinates. Traditionally the shortfall in conventional artillery had been partly offset by the use of mortars of all calibres. The American 75mm pack howitzers and 105mm howitzers provided after 1942 were only allocated to the divisions trained in India, and to a few other hand-picked formations.

The Nationalists used a number of armoured trains in their internal campaigns, but only a handful of light tanks and other armoured vehicles had been imported from Britain, Germany, Italy and the USSR in the 1920s-30s. mainly Renault FT 17 tanks and Carden Loyd carriers. Japan's own light and outdated armour in China was used entirely for dispersed infantry support; the motley Chinese inventory had little impact on the fighting, and most soon broke down or were destroyed. The performance of the crews of US-supplied Stuarts and Shermans in Burma from 1944 proved that when properly trained, Chinese armour crews were at least a match for their Japanese adversaries.

Nationalist guerrillas 1937-45

Contrary to popular belief. China's numerous anti-Japanese guerrillas were not drawn solely from the Communist forces: a large Nationalist guerrilla movement existed for much of the war. In Japanese-occupied regions such groups were often organized by local KMT officials, or by Nationalist officers sent from Chungking. These guerrilla groups often had to operate in areas which were also stalked by hostile Communist bands as well as Japanese and Chinese puppet troops. 15

Communist China Army Weapons

The Chinese Army in general was pitifully short of modern heavy weapons, and any modern equipment was invariably given to the units most loyal to Chiang Kai-shek. This 3.7cm German Pak 36 anti-tank gun was photographed in 1937, when it could still offer a useful defence against Japan's obsolescent tanks. (Joseph T.C.Liu)

Chiang Kai Shek Nationalist Forces

A unit in full battle gear in early 1945. Armed with locally manufactured 'Chiang Kai-shek' Mauser rifles and a few Thompson SMGs, these soldiers are reasonably well equipped. Note the blankets rolled up from each end and lashed together to form backpacks, no doubt with personal gear inside; and the shovels carried by men in the right foreground. Their caps are a more 'relaxed' version of the ski-type cap, as supplied to troops on the Burmese front. The usual KMT white sun badge is displayed, unusually, on a squared blue cloth patch. (US National Archives)

Some of the Nationalist guerrillas became well organized, setting up small-scale local production of arms, uniforms and equipment; but in most cases, if cut off from government sources of supply they struggled to survive. Consequently they were often obliged to throw in their lot with local Communist forces, either being absorbed by force or persuaded by propaganda. While KMT cadres would be executed by the Communists in such cases, the rank and file were welcomed into the fold.

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  • roma
    Did the chinese army wear backpacks?
    2 years ago

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