Japan’s military operations in China during World War II are seamlessly linked to the Sino-Japanese conflict that broke out in July 1937 (for which see Sino – Japanese, war, in App. I, p. 433 and in this App.).
According to Computerminus, Japan’s entry into the war against Western powers had the immediate consequence of enlarging the already vast Chinese theater of operations. Until then the operations had taken place in the central-eastern provinces and, in part, on the southern coasts. On December 8, 1941, the Japanese occupied the Shanghai International Concession and the Chinese T’ien-Tsin Concession; on the 11th they disarmed the American garrison in Beijing, on the 12th they occupied the islet of Ko-long-su, in front of the port of Amoy, simultaneously starting the operations for the conquest of Hong-kong, which capitulated on the 26th, and those for the invasion of Thailand and Burma. This foreshadowed the opening, in the short term, of two new operational chessboards, for there could be no doubt about the Japanese intentions to use those states as transit territories and bases of operations to strike at the heart of national China. On the other hand, Ch’ang Kai-shek began to receive even more help from the United States of America and on March 10, 1942 he hired American General IW Stilwell as his chief of staff. He first organized a series of airfields in the provinces of Kwang-si, Kiang-si, Hu-nan, Fu-kien, Che-kiang, in order to create a wide communications network. air across the entire southern territory of China.
In the meantime, supplies had intensified through the new routes of French Indochina, the “red road” (a car track arranged with the use of hundreds of thousands of terrace workers and joining the stations of Sergiopol and Iljisk on the Soviet railway of Kazakhstan) and Burma.
On May 14, 1942, the Japanese launched an offensive in Chekiang, captured the important city of Kin-hwa, approached the American air base of Chü-chow and, in early July, penetrated into Kiang-si, joined with another column, which started from Nan-chang. On July 13 they seized the seaport of Wenchow, while managing to control the entire route of the Han-k’ow, Nan-chang, Hang-chow railway line. The success was not lasting, however, since at the end of August the Chinese forces, strengthened with modern American means and supported by powerful air formations, had an energetic offensive return that forced the Japanese to evacuate the areas of Fu-chow, Wen-chow and the T’sin-sien railway, Chü-chow.
By the end of September, the Chinese thrust had been absorbed, but Ch’ang Kai-shek was able to restore the situation almost as it was before the Japanese offensive, once again securing the use of some ports on the southern Yellow Sea, and the Japanese had almost entirely lost. the conquests made in Che-kiang with their May-July offensive.
The operations underwent a pause for a few months and also the encroachments carried out by the Nippons in the Yün-nan, both on the road to Burma and from the Tonkinese border, were of modest importance. In December, the Japanese undertook a large offensive northward, straddling the border between Hu-peh and An-hwei, and succeeded in occupying Sin-yang north of Han-k’ow. The main purpose of the operations was to protect the river traffic in the area, which considerable forces of the Chinese guerrilla were seriously disturbing; on the whole they were vast raking actions that did not bring significant enlargements in the territorial occupation. This, at the end of 1942, was limited to a coastal strip in Kwang-tung, between Canton and Amoy, and to the provinces of Hu-peh, eastern An-hwei, of Kiang-su and Northern Che-kiang. In northern China, the Japanese always held Shan-si, Ho-pei, and Shan-tung.
The extension of the war in the Pacific, the multiplicity of theaters of operation, the growing power of resistance ensured to Ch’ang Kai-shek by American aid, contributed greatly to preventing the Japanese from definitively settling the “Chinese incident” and there they were kept engaged in a nerve-wracking struggle within a practically boundless space. In May 1943, after inflicting a serious defeat on the Chinese 5th Army in Hu-peh and forcing its commander, gen. Pong Ping-shun, six divisions and two Japanese brigades, divided into three columns, moved on a broad front towards the west, going up the valley of the Blue River. The battle was called, although unofficially, Ch’ung-k’ing, the ultimate goal that the Japanese promised to achieve. They reached about 400 km. from the Chinese capital, but for various reasons the offensive had to be interrupted and, in June, the Japanese command recalled the troops to their starting positions. No better outcome was, in November, an action southwest of Tung-ting Lake, tending to cut the vast rice fields of the south-eastern provinces from the rest of China. The Japanese managed to occupy Chang-teh and push on C’hang-sha on 3 December, but an immediate Chinese counter-offensive restored the situation at the end of the same month.
In 1944 the Japanese saw the decline of the supremacy they had secured over the oceans and in the air, and decided to achieve territorial continuity between northern China and Malaysia at any cost. In mid-April they launched two offensives in Hu-nan, one to capture the Lo-yang railway and the other to regain control of the Han-k’ow railway north of that city. Having achieved these two objectives, at the end of May they began the push towards the south-west: overcoming Lake T’ung ting, they conquered C’hang-sha on June 17, already the target of five previous unsuccessful attempts, reached Heng Yang and, instead of aiming on Canton, as the Allies expected, they threw decisively in the direction of Kwei-lin and Nan-ning and, on 7 December 1944, joined troops from
Later they widened the long corridor they had managed to establish through China, pushing south until they connected, in January 1945, to Kukong with the troops of Canton and submerging, almost completely, the Kwang-si, so that they were cut off from the rest of China. the Chinese armies of Fu-kien and Kiang-si.
The Japanese deluded themselves that they had created the “Asian fortress” which used the 5,000 km long Singapore-Beijing road as the backbone of communications, served by rail along the entire route, except for an interruption of about 350 km. But the defeats suffered in the islands and in the Pacific could not fail to have repercussions on the continent, where Lord Mountbatten had managed to reconquer Burma almost entirely. The Japanese had to restrict their occupation and abandoned southern China, leaving garrisons only in the main ports: Canton, Amoy, Swa-tow (see the analogy with what practiced by the Germans in the French Atlantic ports) and slowly retreated towards the Yang- tze, to gather north of its course.
On August 15, 1945, they still held the Han-k ‘ow-Canton railway line, while the Kwang-forces retreated, partly along the Si kiang over Canton, and partly from Kwei-lin to C’hang-sha.
On August 10 the unconditional capitulation of Japan was announced, Generalissimo Ch’ang Kai-shek transmitted the message of victory to his troops and all of China and invited gen. Yasutsugu Okamura, commander of the Tenno forces in China, to send a mission to take instructions for surrender. On 9 September the end of the war ceremony was celebrated in Nanjing in the auditorium of the Military Academy, where gen. Okamura and gen. Ho Yingclun, commander of the Chinese army, signed the surrender document. Thus over one million and 300,000 Japanese soldiers, who were in China, laid down their weapons. Chinese casualties rise to 3,178,063 units, of which 1,310,224 dead, 115,248 missing and 1,752,591 wounded.
Internal resistance. – The guerrilla warfare conducted by the Chinese against the Japanese occupation forces in China was mainly the work of partisans, who, while the regular troops of the Nationalist army fought along the front, had the task of harassing the enemy rear. The Chinese Communist troops contributed to this guerrilla activity and were united during the war into two main armies constituted as a regular force and which, following the 1937 agreement, operated, albeit nominally, under the supreme command of Ch’ung-K’ing: the “8th Red Army”, initially composed of three Communist divisions (115, 120, 129), with a force of 45,000 men at the time of establishment and the “4th New Red Army”, with a initial strength of 12,000 men. These two armies, whose numbers in the course of the war were greatly increased, they represented, together with the minor bands of the irregular, about a fifth of the fighting forces against Japan. The partisan guerrilla warfare began after the fall of Canton and Han-k’ow, in October 1938, and reached its maximum intensity, due to the repressive actions carried out by the Japanese, in 1941 and 1942. The guerrillas took place mainly in northern and central China, and, in part, in southern China: the terrain of operations was divided into zones of anti-Japanese struggle. In the north of China there were the following areas: Shan-si and Sui-yüan; Shan-si, Chahar, Ho-pei; Shan-si, Ho-pei, Ho-nan; Ho-pei, Shan-tung, Ho-nan; Shan-tung. These areas covered an area of 370,000 square miles with a population of over 80 million; the “8th Red Army” operated in them. In central China there were the following areas: central Kiang-su; Eastern Che-kiang; Northern Kiang-su; Hwai-nan (south of the Hwai River); Hwai-pei (north of the Hwai River); Southern Kiang-su; Central An-hwei; region bordering the Hu-peh, Hu-nan, An-hwei. These areas covered an area of about 135,000 square miles with a population of over 60 million residents: the “4th new red army” operated in them. In southern China there were the areas of the island of Hai-nan and the vicinity of Canton: in the latter the guerrilla activity was mainly directed against the Kow-loon railway, Canton. Hwai-nan (south of the Hwai River); Hwai-pei (north of the Hwai River); Southern Kiang-su; Central An-hwei; region bordering the Hu-peh, Hu-nan, An-hwei. These areas covered an area of about 135,000 square miles with a population of over 60 million residents: the “4th new red army” operated in them. In southern China there were the areas of the island of Hai-nan and the vicinity of Canton: in the latter the guerrilla activity was mainly directed against the Kow-loon railway, Canton. Hwai-nan (south of the Hwai River); Hwai-pei (north of the Hwai River); Southern Kiang-su; Central An-hwei; region bordering the Hu-peh, Hu-nan, An-hwei. These areas covered an area of about 135,000 square miles with a population of over 60 million residents: the “4th new red army” operated in them. In southern China there were the areas of the island of Hai-nan and the vicinity of Canton: in the latter the guerrilla activity was mainly directed against the Kow-loon railway, Canton.
Although nominally dependent on the nationalist command, nevertheless the communist troops had an autonomous position in the framework of the war against Japan and there was no lack of incidents between the two countries, communist and nationalist, such as that of the An-hwei, in January 1941, when, having the “4th new red army” refused to carry out an order from the government, which ordered its dissolution. The sudden end of the war against Japan saw the communist troops master the territory they had occupied during the war and in this territory and on that of Manchuria the clashes that were to lead to the civil war began.