49. Chiang Attacks
|WAR is only an instrument of policy, but Chiang Kai-shek seems never to have had a war plan. Plans for campaigns- yes; plan for war - no. And throughout the whole conflict with the Communists, we find him ignoring their army and basing his whole hopes for victory on the capture of rail lines, walled cities and strong points.
Let us go back again for a moment to the year 1945 and rejoin Chiang Kai-shek in his rock-ribbed refuge at Chungking. (l) The Japanese have surrendered, but Chiang is fifteen hundred miles away from the seacoast, while his ancient enemies, the Communists, are close by the big cities of North China, demanding entry within their walls. Chiang solves this dilemma by twin strokes: he borrows the American Air Force and Navy to transport his troops to Japanese-held Nanking, Tientsin, Peiping, and Manchuria and he persuades the American government to issue orders to the beaten Japanese not to surrender to the Communist guerrillas at their gates.
|原注一：抗战时蒋介石的陪都设在重庆。日本投降后他还都南京。||(1) Chiang established a temporary capital in Chungking during the Japanese war. He returned to the national capital at Nanking after V-J Day.|
| Those who wish to gain a clear idea
of the North China Plain have only to place, mentally, on the ground, a
capital A. The left leg of the A is the Peiping-Hankow Railway, the right
one is the Tientsin-Pukow Railway, the tie of the A is the Lunghai Railway.
The top of the A is Peiping where the headquarters of Chiang's northern
army is; the lower left tip is Hankow, where his Central China supply base
is; the lower right tip is Nanking, where Chiang Kai-shek and the seat of
the Kuomintang government are. (2)
The triangle comprised in the top of the A, between the two legs and the crossbar, is the heart of the plain, where, since 1938, Communists had fought the Japanese. Midway, up the right side of this triangle lies a sacred Buddhist mountain, called Mount Tai, which was once an island in the sea that is now Shantung Province. Down the whole length of the left limb of our A runs a series of mountains which native militarists and invading barbarians have struggled to control for four thousand years and which stretch away for two thousand miles to the roof of the world in Tibet. These mountains dominate the plain.
Emerging west of the mountains and cutting directly across the plain, sometimes north, sometimes south of the crossbar of the A, runs the Yellow River, that great muddy snake that drains half the continent of China.
As for the plain itself, imagine an ancient sea that the Yellow River pumped full of Mongolian bess and made into a vast ocher-colored expanse of ground, flat as a pavement and thickly sown with the villages of ninety million people.
It is the combination of these people, the railways, the river, the mountains and the plain that makes this one of the most interesting and important maneuver grounds for decisive battle in the world. The North China Plain, sometimes known as the Yellow River Plain, is the key to the whole country and he who holds it can open the door to victory. Recognizing this, Chiang Kai-shek, in October 1945, rashly tried to take the area by a series of quick marches, hoping to make secure the overland route between the Yangtze and the north. Using what troops he had in the vicinity and allying himself with the troops of Warlord Yen Hsi-shan, he dashed into the mountains of Shansi Province with fifty thousand men and at the same time ran three corps into the plains of Hopei Province on the east. His move was characteristically opportunistic and had fatal consequences.
|原注二：严格的说汉口和南京正在大平原的南方。||(2) Strictly speaking Hankow and Nanking lie just south of the Great Plain.|
For the Communists in the Taihang Mountains, west of the plain, watched his move and recognized its vulnerability. General Liu Po-cheng, debouched from the mountains with fifty thousand troops of his own, picked up fifty thousand more civilians on the way, and within a week wiped out thirty thousand of Chiang's troops in Shansi and captured one army and twelve division commanders. Turning back through the mountains and marching east, Liu, within another week, lured the three corps on the plain into a trap, persuaded General Kao Hsu-hsun, with whom he had been in written communication for a year, to surrender without a fight, wiped out a second corps on the banks of the Chang River, and drove the third back south.
Liu's quick victory was no major action in itself and observers paid it but scant attention; but it brought Chiang to cold-eyed alertness with a shock of recognition: these Communists were no longer the half-starved guerrillas he had driven from the Yangtze Valley twelve years before, but a serious menace. It was this defeat that underlay the shortlived Marshall truce of 1946. The truce was, for Chiang Kai-shek, a period of reflection and consideration. His decision was all-out war. In July 1946, Chiang assembled 200 of his 250 brigades for front line duty and set out on the great drive against the North China Plain with the avowed attention of reaching his isolated troops in the north and ending the war by weight of materiel within three to six months.
||Why did Chiang begin an all-out war? The answer is obvious: he thought he could win. The figures seemed to prove it. The opposing sides lined up something like this:|
Despite its several advantages in morale and mobility, the 8th Route
Army had to give ground before Chiang's attacks which at first brought
rapid and seemingly conclusive successes. Quickly Chiang cleared the area
around the nation's capital at Nanking and her chief city at Shanghai
and drove Communist General Chen Yi up the seacoast and into Shantung
where he took refuge in sacred Mount Tai. With another swift blow, and
almost ridiculous ease, he captured Kalgan, the only large North China
city in Communist hands.
Chiang captured cities, but the Communists remained in the countryside, sitting athwart his communications. In late 1946, Chiang began to find that the temporary, but necessary, occupation of towns along his supply routes required more forces than he could afford.
Unable to finish off the war quickly, Chiang, who had been waging offensives on four northern fronts at once, was forced to reduce his commitments and concentrate on one main front. By 1947, he drew up a new plan to conquer North China. Around the important railway junction of Hsuchow he massed half a million men and began a drive through Shantung Province, the road to Peiping and Manchuria. This front far outstripped the more publicized Manchurian front and soon became of nationwide importance.
At this time, I was in Communist territory and I saw Red strategists
make a decision which was to have profound effects on the course of the
war. They decided to halt their retreats and stand up and fight.
| At first, they had to give ground,
but in exchange, they soon began to get large bags of prisoners. In January
1947, the whole American-equipped 26th Division surrendered with its commander
who savagely told his Communist captors that his debacle was due not to
clever tactics on their part but to the stupidity of the generalissimo who
stubbornly pushed him forward against his will. It was curious, however,
that the troops had thought so little of their cause that they had not bothered
to destroy one bit of their equipment, which was now taken over by the 8th
Route Army and turned around on the Kuomintang.
Chiang did not heed this sign, but pushed on. Bringing another army group over from the American naval base at Tsingtao and sending them south, he tried to catch the Communist forces in Shantung in a pincer. General Chen Yi, instead of waiting for the jaws of this trap to dose on him, suddenly retreated from the southern force and from the eminence of Mount Tai threw down all his strength at the group army coming at him from the north. The results were electric. Within a few days, thirty thousand prisoners were taken and Chiang's offensive was completely dislocated.
In desperation, Chiang switched commanders, changing in rapid succession
from Liu Chih, the northern general, to Hsueh Yueh, the Cantonese commander,
to Tang En-po, his fellow-provincial, and then to Ku Chih-tung, the Kiangsu
commander. The results were always the same: terrific losses.
The soldiers, subjected to inhuman treatment and frequent beatings
by their officers, were demoralized by the casualties and often would
not attack unless their officers got in front and led them. Offensives
that were meant to roll quickly were sabotaged by soldiers who had no
desire to fall into a Communist ambush. Though they were told they were
fighting bandits the soldiers knew they were fighting the legendary 8th
Route Army where rank and officer privileges did not exist. They also
became aware that the Communists were giving the peasants land and they
began to wonder why they were fighting and many began to desert.
Kuomintang officers and absentee landlords, returning to the villages from the cities, levied taxes of such a ferocious nature on the people that they were in many cases deprived of their means of existence and starved to death.
As we have seen, the effects of such actions were not to make the people
of North China droop, but rage; for when Kuomintang soldiers, and especially
landlords and village gangsters armed by the Kuomintang, tortured, murdered
and buried alive peasants in common pits, terror was not only raised in
the bravest hearts, but this terror produced the reverse of submission
to the Kuomintang army and to the landlords. It was seen that rich farmers
and middle peasants, friends of Chiang's cause, as well as the landless
farmers and the tenants who were his natural enemies, were also liable
to be the victims of plunder, robbery and brutal treatment; and thus the
people of North China had no choice of action; they had no means of security
left but of taking up arms. Thousands who were heretofore neutral in the
war saw the necessity of becoming temporary soldiers or militiamen, and
thus a farmer army poured forth from the Shansi Mountains on the west
and the plains of Hopei, Honan and Shantung on the east.
The immediate military effect of this kind of war was to tie down troops and make Chiang's rear unsafe. How annoying this can be is to be seen from the village of Paicha in the Taihang Mountains. Having been aroused by the constant looting expeditions of Kuomintang soldiers, the villagers obtained rocks from a near-by hill, built head-high barricades across all their streets, stoned up their windows and ambushed the next Kuomintang foraging group that came to town. Then, armed with a few rifles, they organized a militia. Soon the villages thereabouts followed this example until the whole countryside was up in arms against the local Kuomintang regiment.
Meanwhile, on the flood of passion created by the land reform, a horde
of poor peasants, tenants and agricultural workers poured into the Communist
camp, while on the other side, landlords and some rich farmers joined
the Kuomintang. Since the poor are more numerous than the rich, it is
easy to see that the Communists benefited by this state of affairs.