Kuomintang Soldiers

DURING WORLD WAR II, China was an important partner in the fight against the Japanese Empire. Although often overlooked today as an ally of the United States and the British Empire, China had already been fighting Japanese armies on her own soil for four and a half years when the attack 011 Pearl Harbor opened hostilities between Japan and the Western Allies in December 1941. and thereafter this so-called Sino-Japanese War became absorbed into the wider conflict. It has been estimated that in the period 1937-45 some 14 million Chinese served in the armed forces, losing about 1.400.000 dead and 1.800.000 wounded. (Total Chinese civilian casualties are. of course, incalculable, but a figure of around 800.000 dead has been suggested.)

While the United States provided the government of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek with generous financial and material aid, air support, staff assistance, and training for a proportion of his forces, only a small minority of China's troops served in direct co-ordination with the British Empire forces in South-East Asia. Nevertheless, the stubborn resistance against the Japanese in China itself tied down more than a million Japanese troops throughout the war - troops who would otherwise have been free for massive reinforcement of the southern armies facing the British 011 the Burma/India border and the US forces in the Pacific, with very damaging results.

An undeclared state of hostilities had already existed between China and Japan since the latter's invasion of Manchuria in September 1931, and full-scale war had broken out in July 1937. During the years that followed Chinese armies were to suffer catastrophic losses in both men and material, and huge tracts of territory and most of the major cities -roughly, the entire northern and eastern half of the country - were to fall under Japanese occupation. By the outbreak of the Pacific war in 1941 the Chinese Army was exhausted, and its ability and will to resist had been worn down: however, encouraged and funded by the Western Allies, the nation and army continued to fight until the final Allied victory in August 1945.

The Chinese Army was to emerge from the war seemingly stronger than ever in both numbers and equipment. However, the fragility of this outward strength was soon to be exposed by their Communist adversaries in the resumed Civil War of 1946—49. Severe weaknesses in strategy, morale and leadership were to lead to the final defeat of the Nationalist forces in late 1949, and their flight to the island of Formosa (Taiwan).

The huge size and diversity of Chinese forces in mis period, the weakness of central control, the essentially regional

German Helmet Chinese Kmt

Chinese troops moving up to the front north of Peking In 1937 to face the Invading Imperial Japanese Army. All wear the M35 German helmet and light khaki cotton uniforms with woollen puttees. Some appear to be armed with the Chinese version of the Mauser Gewehr 88 rifle, and the man at right foreground carries a ZB26 light machine gun In Its canvas cover.

Chinese troops moving up to the front north of Peking In 1937 to face the Invading Imperial Japanese Army. All wear the M35 German helmet and light khaki cotton uniforms with woollen puttees. Some appear to be armed with the Chinese version of the Mauser Gewehr 88 rifle, and the man at right foreground carries a ZB26 light machine gun In Its canvas cover.

nature of their command and operations, and the lack or loss of records, all contribute to prevent any but the briefest accounts of organization and campaign history in this text. However, enough information and images are available to allow a concise study of their uniforms, insignia, equipment and weapons -the core concerns of the Men-at-Arms series.

From the Wuchang rising of 1911 which toppled the last emperor, until the mid 1930s, the Chinese Republic was riven by revolutions, revolts and civil wars. For a decade after 1917 the country was fragmented between regional warlords, but from the mid 1920s the armies of the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party', KMT) emerged as the strongest contenders for power.1

The KMT, led in the early 1920s by Sun Yat-sen. was originally based in Canton. Kwangtung province, on the south-east coast, but its influence spread rapidly. It promised unification, modernization, and an end to foreign interference. Although suspicious of the then weak Chinese Communist Party (CCP), for pragmatic reasons the KMT accepted Soviet Russian advisers to help in its task; and the USSR, for its part, sought to infiltrate Communists into the KMT. After Sun's death in 1925 the Communists stepped up their efforts to take control of the KMT, but were frustrated by Sun's military chief Chiang Kai-shek, who took over both political and military leadership in 1926.

General Chiang soon established KMT dominance south of the Yangtze river, and purged the Communists; in 1927 a KMT government was set up in Nanking, and the Russian advisers were expelled, soon to be replaced by a German military mission. The Communist Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA - a title adopted only in 1946) dates its birth to the mutiny of Gen Chu Te's 24th Division of the KMT army in August 1927. Subsequent Communist risings against the KMT in several areas were crushed, and in October 1934 the Communists were driven out of the southern provinces and began their 6.000-mile 'Long March' west and north across deserts and mountains to Yenan in ShensS province, in the north-west. Reduced from about 100.000 fighters to a hard core of 20.000, this 8th Route Army - now led by Mao Tse-tung, a rural Communist from Hunan province - devoted itself to building a strong base of loyalty and practical support among the peasantry of northern China. Upon this foundation they would develop, codify and practise a sophisticated strategy of rural guerrilla warfare - at fot

1 See MM 306, Chinese Civil War Armies 1911-49

against the KMT, and subsequently against the Japanese invaders. In future years this guerrilla doctrine was to have enormous influence 011 conflicts elsewhere in the world, and the ultimate failure of the KMT armies to defeat it taught parallel lessons.

M35 Helmet Kmt

An artillery officer uses a periscopic rangefinder during the early fighting of 1937. He is wearing a light khaki cotton uniform with a French Adrian steel helmet, which appears to have a gloss finish in this and accompanying photographs. Later in the Sino-Japanese War the Adrian was mostly associated with troops from the far southern provinces bordering French Indochina. (Imperial War Museum, CHN 11)

Japan and Manchuria

While the Kuomintang campaigned successfully against its remaining warlord rivals and the Communists in the early 1930s, elements in the Japanese ruling class were planning the seizure of Manchuria - the huge and underpopulated region in the north of China.

Since Japan's victory there over Russia in 1905 she had exercised influence in Manchuria, planting settlers in the southern part of the region and garrisoning it with her Kwantung Army. Rich in the natural resources which Japan needed for her industrialization and exploding population. Manchuria was essentially a no-man's-land nominally ruled by the last great Chinese regional warlord, Marshal Chang Tso-lin, whom the Japanese at first supported. However, extremist right-wing factions in the Imperial Japanese Army were conspiring to dominate the Tokyo government and to secure for Japan the resources of Manchuria. In June 1928 they assassinated Marshal Chang by blowing up his train; in September 1931 they created an incident at Mukden which gave the Kwantung Army a pretext for moving in to 'restore order', in defiance of orders from Tokyo: and in January 1932 they renamed Manchuria as the new state of Manchukuo. ostensibly ruled by the puppet Chinese emperor Pu-Yi, but actually by the Kwantung Army.

Japan was in turmoil during the early 1930s; there were a series of assassinations and coup attempts, during which the army steadily increased its influence and support. When the League of Nations belatedly protested against her aggression in Manchuria, Japan simply left the League in March 1933. Further violations of Chinese territory saw fighting in and around the city of Shanghai in 1932. the Japanese invasion of Jehol province 111 1933, and a clandestine campaign in Suiyuan in 1936. In November 1936 Japan and Germany signed the Anti-Comintern Pact: and the following month President Chiang Kai-shek was reluctantly forced to agree to a 'united front' with the Communists to concentrate 011 fighting the invaders. The campaigns of 1932-36. although bitterly fought, had been relatively small scale affairs, and were to be overshadowed by the outbreak of all-out war in July 1937.

That war would destroy the structure of society throughout much of the country, weakening the political authority and military control of the Kuomintang government. It would also empty the regime's coffers, and reduce much of the population of an already chronically backward country to beggary and starvation: between 1937 and 1945 hyperinflation would see prices rise by 2,500 per cent.

Women Chinese Army

In the crisis of 1937 women were recruited into volunteer units; this young girl soldier of the Citizen Training Corps guards a trench in late September 1937. She wears the baggy peaked cap of the CTC, a light khaki shirt and breeches with puttees, and canvas and rubber 'basketball'-type boots. Canvas ammunition bandoliers worn around the waist and over the left shoulder seem to be her only equipment. (Adeq Historical Resources Inc)

In the crisis of 1937 women were recruited into volunteer units; this young girl soldier of the Citizen Training Corps guards a trench in late September 1937. She wears the baggy peaked cap of the CTC, a light khaki shirt and breeches with puttees, and canvas and rubber 'basketball'-type boots. Canvas ammunition bandoliers worn around the waist and over the left shoulder seem to be her only equipment. (Adeq Historical Resources Inc)

1938:

March-April Chinese victory at Taierhchuang by forces led by General Li Tsung-jen; at about 16.000, the losses suffered by the Japanese 10th Div and the Chinese forces are roughly equal. May Fall of coastal cities ofAmoy and Foochow. 6 June Fall ofKaifeng.

October Fall of Canton: and ofWuhan - defended 'on paper' by 107 Chinese divisions totalling 800.000 men. Nationalist government withdraws to south-western city of Chungking.

December President Roosevelt's US government makes loan of $25 million to Chiana Kai-shek.

1939:

10 February Hainan Island occupied by Japanese. 27 March Fall ofNanchang.

22 June Port of Swatow, south China, taken by Japanese. 14 September First battle of Changsha -Japanese fail to take the city. November-December Chinese winter offensive ends in defeat.

1940:

30 March Japanese install Wang Ching-wei at head of puppet 'Reorganized Government' in Nanking, to govern occupied China. 10 June Japanese take Ichang on Yangtze river.

July Refused US support, Britain is forced to agree to Japanese demand to close the 'Burma Road', Nationalist China's only supply route fiom Burma, India and the West (12th). Moderate Japanese government of Adml Yonai replaced by that of Prince Konoye (16th). US government announces limited iron, steel and fuel embargoes on Japan in gesture of support for Chiang Kai-shek (26th).

August Vichy French regime forced to agree to Japan installing garrisons in northern French Indochina, threatening Nationalist positions in Kwangsi province.

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Responses

  • Nellie
    Why chinese army wear german army uniform during the war of nanking?
    8 years ago

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