Campaign to Defend Siping

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Campaign to Defend Siping
Part of the Chinese Civil War
Battle of Siping03.jpg
Chinese Communist machinegun position
Date April 17–May 19, 1946
Location Siping, Jilin, China
Result Stalemate; Nationalists take Siping but not Changchun
Belligerents
Taiwan Republic of China Communist Party of China
Commanders and leaders
Taiwan Du Yuming
Taiwan Bai Chongxi
Taiwan Liao Yaoxiang
Taiwan Sun Liren
Taiwan Chiang Kai-shek
Lin Biao
Mao Zedong
Strength
100,000 85,000
Casualties and losses
6,800 8,000

The Campaign to Defend Siping (四平保卫战) was a struggle between the Nationalists and the communists for the control of Siping during the Chinese Civil War in the post World War II era. The nationalists have combined this campaign with the Battle of Siping as part of the battle, but this was rather misleading since the strategies for both sides were totally different from the strategies in this campaign and unrelated to each other, furthermore, the commanders for both sides in this campaign were completely different from the Battle of Siping. More importantly, the nationalists in the Battle of Siping was in name only, because they were former nationalists (mostly warlords ostensively under nationalist reign) turned Japanese puppet regime forces who rejoined the nationalists after World War II, and the local bandits recruited by the nationalist administrators to fight off communists, since Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalist regime simply did not have the resource to rapidly deploy his forces into the region. In fact, in the Battle of Siping, Chiang’s own force did not even participated in the fights. This campaign was characterized by the fact that the supreme commanders of both sides had overestimated their strength and set unrealistic goals that could doom their troops in the field, but in both cases, the brilliant frontline commanders on both sides had successfully averted the potential catastrophes by convincing their respective supreme commanders to change their original decisions.

Prelude[edit]

After the defeat of Jinjiatun Campaign, the nationalists resumed their offensive with vengeance. In a short period of just two days, the nationalists were able to regroup and re-supply completely, and continued their push toward Siping. Chiang Kai-shek was determined to take Changchun after taking Siping, and Mao Zedong was equally determined to hold Siping to the end and prevent the nationalists from taking both Siping and Changchun. Both sides realized the upcoming campaign would be a difficult one and both sides placed one of their best field commanders in charge: Du Yuming for the nationalists and Lin Biao for the communists.

Order of battle[edit]

Attackers: nationalist order of battle:

Defenders: communist order of battle:

First stage[edit]

Chinese Expeditionary Force (in Burma) was the elite in the nationalist army.

Under Mao Zedong’s strategy, the communists were determined to hold Siping to the end. In order to fortify the city, everyone was mobilized to build bunkers inside the city, while food, ammunition and other supplies were stacked. Lin Biao and personally inspected communist fortifications at important defensive positions such as Pagoda Mountain (Ta Zi Shan, 塔子山) and Three Lines of Groves (San Dao Lin Zi, 三道林子) with Peng Zhen in preparation for a prolonged campaign. Lin Biao also held a conference at Pear Tree (Li Shu, 梨树) county to plan the strategy of the defense: To better coordinate the defense of Siping, the communist formed an urban defense command inside the city headed by the Ma Renxing (马仁兴), the commander of the communist 1st Brigade, while the general headquarters retreated to the suburb at Pear Tree (Li Shu, 梨树) county. In order to boost the morale of defenders, a newspaper titled “Self Defense Newspaper” was created with Chen Yi (陈沂), the deputy director of the political directorate of the communist general headquarters as the chief editor. The communist decided to deploy only two regiments in the city to check the nationalist attacks while the bulk of their force would be deployed in the rear, in the region between Siping and Pear Tree (Li Shu, 梨树) county and the region between Siping and the Eight Sided City (Ba Mian Cheng, 八面城). Once the attacking nationalists were checked by the defensive force of the city in fortification, the communists would then concentrate their force to strike the weakest nationalist 71st Army.

On April 17, 1946, nationalist frontline commander Zheng Dongguo (郑洞国) and his deputy Liang Huasheng (梁华盛) moved their headquarters to Twin Temples (Shuang Miao Zi, 双庙子) and ordered immediately attack on the city. On April 18, the railways reaching the city was successfully severed. Two regiments of the 30th Division of the nationalist 71st Army under the command of Chen Mingren (陈明仁) attacked the enemy positions from the south from Haifeng Village (Haifeng Tun, 海丰屯), Pobozi (泊脖子), and Duck Lake Pao (Ya Hu Pao, 鸭湖泡) regions, but were beaten back three time consecutively. After the initial setback, Zheng Dongguo (郑洞国) held a military conference on April 19. The nationalist army and divisional commanders attending the conference concluded that the front attack on the strongly defended enemy positions was impossible, and attacks from flanks or other weak points must be selected instead in order to achieve successful breakthrough. The railway junctions that provided the link between the 3rd Battalion of the communist 1st Regiment and the communist 56th Regiment appeared to be a good point for breakthrough. After the conference, under the heavy artillery cover, the 30th Division of the nationalist New 1st Army launched its offensive on the junction of the two communist units, and the nationalists had successfully taken the enemy position as expected. The loss of the position at the railway junction signaled that the defensive force inside the city must be strengthened and Lin Biao immediately did so, and informed the defenders in the city.

The arrival of the reinforcement greatly boosted the morale of the defenders and the advance guard of the 21st Regiment of the 7th Brigade of the communist Western Manchurian 3rd Division launched a counterassault on the nationalists with the help of other communist units, successfully took back the positions at railway junction previously lost on the same afternoon, while inflicting heavy casualties on the nationalists in the process, and the heavy casualties stopped the offensive of the nationalist 30th Division completely. After the struggle for Siping had begun, both Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong in their distant headquarters were concerned about the development and both frequently inquired the progress on the battlefield. Chiang was determined to take Changchun and thus Siping must be taken first to open the path for Changchun, while Mao felt that Siping must be held at all cost and on April 22, Mao telegraphed Lin Biao to order him to hold on and wait for the campaign to turn for the better. From April 18, through April 26, 3 divisions from the nationalist New 1st Army and the 71st Army took turns to assault the enemy positions, but were all beaten back by the enemy in favorable terrain. By the evening of April 26, 1946, heavy casualties forced the offensive of the nationalist 71st Army to a complete stop, while that of the nationalist New 1st Army was reduced to skirmishes.

After failing to make significant progress, the nationalist resorted to artillery to shell the enemy, but resulted in disastrous failure. The terrain favored the defenders in that there were relatively few artillery positions outside the city for shelling the city, and defenders were well aware these positions. The nationalists enjoyed numerical superiorities in artillery so these positions were jammed with nationalist batteries. The enemy defending the city, on the other hand, had fewer artilleries and thus was forced to move around whenever and wherever they were needed, and such frequent and rapid movement to the next new position where artillery support was needed helped the enemy artilleries from being shelled by the nationalist counter-artillery fire. In contrast, nationalist artillery was the first to fire for most of the time, but after firing, they were not able to move around due to limited positions available and the high concentration of batteries deployed in the few available positions. As a result, the nationalist batteries became victims of enemy counter-artillery fire and suffered great loss. When nationalists were forced to withdraw their batteries from the few available artillery positions to avoid losses, the enemy was out of range. As a result, the attacking nationalists lost the artillery duel. Mao was happy that the nationalist attack was beaten back again, and on April 27, 1946, telegraphed Lin Biao to praise him and his troop, and asked Lin Biao to deploy one or two more regiments to develop Siping into Madrid in the East.

Second stage[edit]

To better defend the city, Lin Biao redeployed his forces: the 21st Regiment of the 7th Brigade of the communist Western Manchurian 3rd Division, the 67th Regiment and the 2nd Regiment of the Artillery Brigade of the Northern Manchurian 7th Division entered the city to boost the defense, the 55th Regiment and the 58th Regiment of the 19th Brigade of the communist Wan Yi (万毅) Column was deployed in southern suburb, the Shandong 1st Division and 2nd Division were deployed in the northwestern suburb, the 7th Brigade and the 10th Brigade of the Western Manchurian 3rd Division were deployed in the eastern suburb, and 359th Brigade stationed at Gongzhuling as reserve. The 7th Brigade and the 8th Brigade of the communist Southern Manchurian 3rd Column had also successfully severed the nationalist supply line between Changtu and Kaiyuan, Liaoning, thus slowed down the nationalist push on the city. To distract nationalist force elsewhere and preventing them from reinforcing their comrades-in-arms attacking Siping, other communist units launched separate attacks on the nationalist positions, and by April 18, all of the final nationalist strongholds in Changchun region fell into the enemy hands, and on April 25, Qiqihar fell into the enemy hands, and finally on April 28, all of the final nationalist strongholds in Harbin region fell into the enemy hands. However, such success only strengthened Chiang Kai-shek’s resolve to take Changchun after Siping.

After the initial success of the beating back the nationalist attack, the communist high command became overconfident and daydreamed that within ten day, the communist defenders of Siping would go out of the city and annihilate the elite nationalist New 1st Army. On April 28, 1946, the communist high command telegraphed the entire communist force defending the city by praising them for their success in defending Siping and hoped that they would continue their effort for the final victory, turning Siping into another Madrid. Lin Biao was well aware that the communist force at the time was not capable of fighting with the New 1st Army face to face, and telegraphed back on April 29, claiming that it was impossible to annihilate the New 1st Army at Siping, though this elite nationalist force would definitely be annihilated in Northeast China, it was not the time when defending Siping. However, the unscathed large communist force in other areas was quite capable of badly mauling the exhausted New 1st Army after the fierce battles at Siping in an ambush at the favorable terrain and under the cover of darkness and bad weather, and such ambush was planned later on the presumed nationalist attack on Changchun. Du Yuming, the brilliant nationalist commander would not provide the enemy with such opportunity they wanted and thus would consequently foil the enemy’s hope by successfully convincing Chiang Kai-shek instead of immediately continuing to take Changchun after taking Siping as originally planned, the exhausted nationalists would stop at Siping regroup and re-supply, hence avoiding any possible ambush or counterattacks by the enemy.

Confident that the nationalists would be able to completely annihilate the communist enemy and would be able to first take Northeast China and then the entire China afterward, on April 30, 1946, Chiang Kai-shek turned down George Marshall’s peace proposal that was agreed by the communists and neutral political parties in China, and both the nationalists and the communists realized that any gains in the following peace negotiations would come from the victories in the battlefield. On April 1, Mao Zedong telegrammed Lin Biao, giving the latter the following orders: First, Lin Biao would have the overall control of the communist political and military power in Northeast China and if help was needed, Gao Gang would be sent. Second, the nationalists had turned down the George Marshall’s peace proposal that was agreed by the communists and neutral political parties and insisted on taking Changchun, so Siping and Benxi must be held to the end so that the enemy (nationalists) would exhaust its supplies and ammunitions to the point that it would take at least six months to resupply, and thus providing time for us (communists) to strengthen ourselves (communists) at Changchun and Harbin for better positions in the peace negotiation followed. Third, concentrating our (communist) force to achieve victory.

After setbacks outside the Siping, the nationalists believed that the situation in Northeast China depended the successful taking of the city, and after Siping was taken from the enemy, the overall situation for the nationalist in Northeast China would immediately be improved significantly, and thus the city must be taken at all cost. The elite nationalist New 6th Army under the command of Liao Yaoxiang (廖耀湘) was first airlifted by the United States Army Air Forces to Northeast China, and made its move to Siping from Kaiyuan, Liaoning, Xifeng County, Liaoning, and the Town of Yehe Nara (Ye He Zhen, 叶赫镇). With the arrival of the new reinforcement, the nationalists planned to concentrate their forces to take Siping and then take the city of Eternal Auspiciousness (Yong Ji, 永吉) and Changchun. In preparation, the 14th Division and the 22nd Division of the nationalist New 6th Army was deployed to Kaiyuan, Liaoning from Liaoyang and Benxi, the nationalist 93rd Army was also deployed to Northeast China from Beijing. In addition, the nationalist air force concentrated all of its available aircraft in the region to support the offensive on the ground.

Third stage[edit]

On May 15, Du Yuming gave the order to launch a general assault on the Siping and declared to his men that the city must be taken this time. The nationalist assault came in three fronts: the 88th Division and the New 6th Army of the nationalist right front would attack the enemy’s left flank, targeting cities including Gongzhuling, Meihekou, Changchun and Qitamu (其塔木). The New 1st Army on the nationalist central front would directly attack city and then would take Shuangcheng and Dehui after taking Siping, and continue its push to the regions north of Songhua River. Two divisions of the 71st Army on the nationalist left front would attack enemy’s right flank, targeting Zheng Family’s Village (Zheng Jia Tun, 郑家屯) and Shuangcheng. On May 15, 1946, with 10 times numerical superiority and additional technical superiority, the nationalist 50th Division at the left flank of the nationalist central front launched its fierce attacks under air cover and air support on the peak # 258 held by the enemy, located to the east of Siping and south of Hafu (哈福). After severe casualties, the enemy was forced to give up peak # 258.

On May 17, Du Yuming ordered the nationalist 195th Division in reserve into action and soon took Hafu (哈福), and surrounded the most critical point of defense of the city, the highest point in the east, a hill called Pagoda Mountain (Ta Zi Shan, 塔子山) located 10 km to the southeast of the city. Excited about the progress, Du reported to Chiang Kai-shek that Siping would be taken soon. Chiang, on the other hands, was not so sure and worried that the nationalist offensive would once more suffer a setback, sent the nationalist Deputy Chief of the General Staff Bai Chongxi to Northeast China to investigate. The night Bai reached Shenyang, Bai told Du Yuming that Chiang had felt the battle to take Siping took too long, and he could not wait any longer. As long as Siping was taken, the nationalists would have a better position on the peace negotiation table than their communist enemy and taking Changchun would be after taking Siping.

Both sides were well aware the importance of the hill and nationalists launched multiple assaults on the hill, and all were beaten back by the communist 19th Regiment of the 7th Brigade of the Western Manchurian 3rd Division defending the hill. The nationalists then concentrate all available firepower to bombard the enemy position with an area around a hundred square metres at the hilltop at a rate of more than 30 rounds per minute, and the under the cover of intense artillery shelling, the nationalist New 6th Army under its commander Liao Yaoxiang (廖耀湘) attacked the hill from three sides in the east, the south, and the west. After beating back nationalist attacks for six times, it was obvious reinforcement was needed. The communist 10th Brigade was order to reinforce Pagoda Mountain (Ta Zi Shan, 塔子山) but they were delayed when crossing the Liao River, and this was the most important reason caused the eventual abandonment of city.

It was obvious that it would be only a matter of time before the communist stronghold at Pagoda Mountain (Ta Zi Shan, 塔子山) to be taken by the attacking nationalists, and with neither the technical nor the numerical superiority, Lin Biao felt it was much more important to preserve the communist strength for the future and he radioed Mao Zedong on May 18, to report the situation and intention to abandon the city. After sending the message, Lin Biao ordered a general withdraw without waiting for the Mao’s reply, and by midnight, the general withdraw in an orderly fashion was completed in total secrecy. Next morning, the nationalists entered and secured the city, and only after that did Mao’s reply came on May 19, in which Mao finally changed his mind and agreed with Lin Biao. Had Lin Biao waited, his entire force in the city would be annihilated.

Outcome[edit]

The brilliance of the frontline commanders on both sides was obvious toward the end and after the campaign. Chiang Kai-shek was overjoyed with the taking of Siping and ordered the nationalists to immediately continue their attack and to take Changchun without a break, so that the enemy would not have the chance to regroup. Du Yuming, the nationalist frontline commander was well aware that his exhausted force must rest and regroup for sometime before launching anymore attacks on the enemy. Furthermore, Du and his fellow officers were also keenly aware that the majority of the enemy force in the rural regions was unscathed and was waiting to ambush them out in the open if the exhausted nationalists had ventured into the terrain hostile to the mechanized force. Du and his officers were determined not to give the enemy the opportunity they had been waiting for, and in a rare example among Chiang’s most trusted subordinates, Du Yuming refused to carry out Chiang’s order and successfully convinced Chiang to stop the planned offensive to allow the nationalists to consolidate their gains in Northeast China, and thus foiled the enemy’s hope of possible ambush.

Equally brilliant, the communist commander Lin Biao dared to ignore Mao Zedong’s order and withdrew from the city on his own, thus successfully avoided total annihilation of his defending force by the numerically and technically superior adversary. However, Lin Biao was more fortunate than his counterpart in that he did not have to convince Mao for his decision and actions because Mao had realized his error and concurred with what Lin Biao’s had done. However, neither Chiang’s original plan of continuing to take Changchun nor Mao’s original plan of holding Siping had materialized and thus the campaign ended in a stalemate.

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