Dongshan Island Campaign
|Dongshan Island Campaign|
|Part of Chinese Civil War|
National Revolutionary Army
People's Liberation Army
|Commanders and leaders|
|Casualties and losses|
Dongshan Island Campaign (traditional Chinese: 東山島戰役; simplified Chinese: 东山岛战役; pinyin: Dōngshān Dǎo Zhànyì) was a series battles fought on the Dongshan Island, Fujian between the Nationalists and the Communists during the Chinese Civil War when the nationalists unsuccessfully attempted to retake the island from the Communists. The campaign was the last (and the largest) land battle between two sides since the Nationalist withdraw to Taiwan, the last and largest Nationalist counterattack against the mainland. After this defeat, the nationalists realized that it was never practical to launch any large scale counterattack against the mainland on a similar scale again. Instead, the nationalist strikes against the mainland were reduced into small scale infiltration / insurgency / skirmishes. The nationalist failure marked the end of operations of this kind.
Order of battle
- Attackers: nationalist order of battle (more than 10,000 men):
- Two army divisions
- One paratroop division (with two brigades totaling 2,000 men)
- 13 naval vessels
- 30+ motorized junks
- Defenders: communist order of battle
- The 80th Public Security Regiment and militia (1,200 men)
- The 272nd Regiment of the 31st Army
- A regiment of the 28th Army
- A regiment of the 41st Army
- The 91st Division of the 31st Army
Shortly before dawn on July 16, 1953, the nationalist commander Hu Lian (胡琏) commanded his troops totaled two divisions in 13 naval vessels and more than 30 motorized junks sailed toward Dongshan Island, Fujian, attempting to retake the island from the communists who took the island from the nationalist three years earlier in the Battle of Dongshan Island. In addition to the two army divisions, an elite paratroop division totaling 2,000 in two brigades was also deployed for the mission, and the total nationalist force committed was just over 10,000. The nationalists had hoped to turn the island into another strongholds at the enemy’s doorstep and use it as a steppingstone to launch strikes against the mainland, but many capable nationalist commanders included the commander of this operation, Hu Lian, remained highly doubtful this would ever succeed, and after fierce debate, a compromise was reached: a much more moderate objective of striking the island to gain a political and morale boost and then a quick withdraw before the enemy could reinforce the island, and when the situation permitted, turn the island into a stronghold like the original plan.
The communists depended on the captured equipment from its nationalist adversary, included the radio communication gear, and since both sides used the American built communication gear, the communists were able to intercept the nationalist radio communications and deduct a rough general idea of the nationalist intentions with the help of other intelligence sources. When the communists reached the correct conclusion of the nationalists planned attack and retake of the Dongshan Island, there was not enough time to reinforce the island in a timely manner. The local defense consisted of the 80th Public Security Regiment and militia totaling 1,200 men, obviously not enough, so the communist commander Ye Fei instructed the local garrison to decide what was best for itself, including withdraw if necessary, and attempt to retake the enemy later.
However, the local commander You Meiyao (游梅耀), the staff officer of the Chen Yi during the Second Sino-Japanese War, refused to withdraw because that would allow the nationalists to utilise the communist fortifications on the island, making future attempts to dislodge the nationalists from the island very difficult. Instead, You Meiyao suggested while the reinforcement was organized as fast as possible, the local garrison would utilise the advantageous landscape and fortifications on the island to slow the enemy down by inflicting as many casualties as possible, and once the attackers were exhausted, the defenders would counterattack with reinforcements. The suggestion of You Meiyao was accepted and praised by Ye Fei and plans were made accordingly.
The first shot of the campaign was fired at 5:00 AM on July 16, 1953 when a nationalist division landed on the island. After three hours of fierce fighting, the enemy’s first line of defense was breached, and the nationalists succeeded in forcing the enemies into their second line of defense. By the end of the day, the nationalist had successfully taken the largest port on the island and controlled most of the island. Due to the rapid advance, the nationalists were optimistic and declared the island was taken. Despite taking most of the island, the enemy’s resistance in the few remaining isolated pockets proved to be much stronger than the nationalists had anticipated. After fierce fighting, only two isolated pockets of enemy resistance remained, but the nationalists were unable to eliminate them.
The enemy’s heavy mortar platoon had taken the highest point of the island and the largest port taken by the nationalists were directly within the range. The accurate enemy mortar fire not only badly damaged the port facilities including the pier, but also scored direct hits on three large landing ships. Although the mortar rounds themselves were not powerful enough to completely destroy the landing ships which carried heavy weaponry and ammunition, the secondary explosions triggered by the direct hits by the enemy heavy mortars were enough to sink all three landing ships. The damaged port required huge manpower to repair, which the nationalists had done very successfully, but in doing so, large number of troops was tied down, unable to support other units in assault the remaining enemy strongholds on the islands. Furthermore, the nationalists failed to realize the seriousness of the problem of the sinking of three large landing ships that blocked the waterway. Since the motorized junks with shallow draft were not severely effected by the wreckage, nationalists were still able to transport personnel onto the island via these junks, but ships carrying heavy weaponry were effectively blocked due to greater draft. The nationalists, however, did not consider the problem to be serious because the enemy was mostly light infantry anyway, a mistake that they would later deeply regret. In addition of failing to realize the problem caused, the nationalists were not able to take the highest point of the island from the enemy and although most of the enemy heavy mortars were knocked out with air support, the surviving ones did not stop shelling the nationalists until the very last round of ammunition had been exhausted. The nationalists] in turn, decided that it was not worth to take the enemy position after the shelling had stopped because the enemy was out of water already and only armed with light weaponry, and thus no longer post any threat, and all the nationalists had to do was simply stay out of the range.
The only enemy’s stronghold left on the island was in the region of Eight Feet Gate (Ba Chi Men, 八尺门), which faced the mainland, defended by a single company of communist naval infantry. The strongly fortified position included a pier and thus was the critical steppingstone for the enemy reinforcement from the mainland. The nationalists had correctly identified this serious threat and had also correctly decided to eliminate this threat early on, so entire American trained paratroop division which reached the island first was devoted for the mission. However, the lightly armed paratroopers proved to be no match for the enemy in heavily fortified positions on the terrain that strongly favored the defenders. After repeated extraordinarily but totally futile assaults, no only the elite paratroopers failed to achieve their original objective, but also suffered heavy loss, with several hundreds killed. The lack of heavy weaponry was the main cause of the nationalist failure to take this very important position, which paved the way for the eventual nationalist defeat in the campaign. Unable to take either of the two remaining enemy strongholds on the island, the battle reached a stalemate.
The enemy units on the mainland reacted rapidly by mobilizing all available vehicles to transport troops to the front. The communist 272nd Regiment of the 31st Army at Zhangpu County was first to respond: by 5:50 AM, less than an hour after the first shot of the campaign was fired, the advance guard of the regiment was already on its way to the front in the extremely few military vehicles available, while the rest of the regiment stop every civilian vehicles on the road to have the needed rides. By 9:00 AM, the entire regiment had reached the Eight Feet Gate (Ba Chi Men, 八尺门) pier of the Eastern Mountain (Dongshan, 东山) Island, with the help of newly arrived reinforcement, the communist naval infantry company at Eight Feet Gate (Ba Chi Men, 八尺门) managed to force the attacking nationalist paratroopers into retreat. A regiment of the communist the 28th Army and a regiment of the communist the 41st Army soon arrived afterward and the communist commander You Meiyao, riding on the initial success of driving back the attacking nationalist paratroopers, decided to immediately counterattack before the arrival of any other reinforcement so that the nationalists would not have the time needed to regroup, and successfully disrupted the nationalist defense and redeployment. As the nationalists were forced back by the counterattacking enemy in the ensuing battles, the communist 91st Division of the 31st Army landed on the island under the commander of the 31st Army, Zhou Zhijian (周志坚), the nationalists’ fate on the island was thus sealed.
The nationalist commander of the operation, Hu Lian, initially did not believed that the enemy could reinforce the island in such large scale in such short time, since the vital bridge, the Nine Dragons Bridge (Jiulongjiang Daqiao, 九龙江大桥) was already destroyed by the nationalist air force and the nationalist intelligence analysis had concluded it would take at least two days to repair the bridge, but the aerial reconnaissance did not lie. Realizing that his force possessed neither technical nor the numerical advantages, Hu Lian wisely chose to withdraw before anymore enemy reinforcement arrived in order to avoid total annihilation. The enemy, in turn, seeing that what they sent was enough already to drive the attacking nationalists away from the island, did not pursuit and stopped sending further reinforcement. The campaign came to an end on July 18, 1953 after the island was secured by the defenders after the nationalist retreat.
Dongshan Island Campaign was the last large scale nationalist counterattack against the mainland, and after this failure, the nationalists realized that it was never practical to launch any large scale counterattack against the mainland in similar scale anymore, and instead, the nationalist strikes against the mainland were reduced into small scale infiltration / insurgency / skirmishes. The nationalist cadavers recovered by the communists on land and in the coastal waters totaled 2,664, and another 715 were captured alive, while the number of wounded was uncertain because most of them were successfully evacuated by the nationalists themselves. In addition, two tanks were destroyed, three landing ships sunk and two aircraft were also lost. The communist casualties were relatively low in comparison, totaling 1,250. The nationalist failure was caused by a series blunder committed, with some of the critical ones committed before the campaign had even begun.
In order to maintain the secrecy of this surprise attack, the nationalist simply went too far in that even their own troops were not informed about the mission until they were already on their way to the island. Many captured nationalist officers did not feel it was a fair fight because they were not informed, and had they been better informed, they would postpone the attack to better train their troops and the outcome of the campaign would certainly be quite opposite, and this view was echoed by many of those who successfully withdrew to Taiwan in their memoirs. In fact, due to the poor inter-service communications caused by the overly excessive secrecy, the two nationalist aircraft lost during the campaign might very well be shot down by their own ground force on the island. One plausible explanation was that due to the rapid advance of the nationalist attackers in the initial phase, the positions previously occupied by the communists to fire at the nationalist aircraft were taken by the nationalist ground force, which was attacked by their own aircraft which was unaware the rapid development of the battlefield, and the nationalist ground force under aerial attack naturally assumed that these were the enemy’s aircraft, and fired back, shooting down two of their own.
The poor inter-service communication caused by the overly excessive secrecy also resulted by nationalist three landing ships after taking the largest port on the island, which was directly within range of the enemy’s heavy mortar positions at the highest point of the island. The slow landing ships loaded with heavy weaponry became sitting ducks as they were being unloaded, and in addition to three being sunk, the pier was also badly damaged by the accurate enemy fire. Although the enemy’s heavy mortars were eventually silenced, the damage was already done and despite the fact that the casualties were low, the lost of heavy weaponry and the need to repair the pier were two most significant factors that caused the nationalist defeat. In fact, the last enemy heavy mortars that survived the nationalist fire did not finally stop until all of the ammunition had run out.
Another serious blunder committed by the attacking nationalist force included attempts to cut the communication link between the defenders and the mainland. Despite the fact that every single telephone line pole was cut down, nobody bothered to cut the actual line, or to wiretap the enemy’s telephone line. As a result, the defenders were able to maintain perfectly good communications with the mainland and the enemy commanders were much better aware the situation than their nationalist counterparts, thanks to a telephone squad with encryption devices. In contrast, the communists’ radio equipment were captured from the nationalists, who did not have the luxury of using telephones, but must rely on radio communications during the campaign, and thus the enemy was able to listen in on the nationalists, obtaining valuable information on the nationalist moves and plans.
The other serious blunder committed by the attacking nationalist force was the grave underestimation of the enemy strength. Although the nationalist order of battle included three divisions, none of them were fully manned, and in fact, the paratroop division only included two brigades totaling 2,000, which was only the strength of a single brigade. Furthermore, due to the sinking of three landing ships at the port and the destruction of the port by enemy heavy mortar fire, most landing forces became light infantry which did not enjoy superior technical advantage over the enemy. This problem was further compounded by the incorrect use of the paratroopers by ordering them to attack the strongly fortified enemy positions at Eight Feet Gate Pier, resulting in more than 500 paratroopers killed, a staggering 25% of the total paratroop force devoted to the campaign. In addition to the loss of technical superiority due to the lack of heavy weaponry, the nationalists also lacked the numerical superiority, which inevitable caused the final collapse of the offensive and the eventual failure.
In addition to underestimating the enemy strength, the nationalists also committed another serious blunder in underestimating the enemy capacity to repair damages inflicted by the opposing side. The nationalist intelligence calculated that after the air strikes that destroyed the vital Nine Dragons Bridge (Jiulong Jiang Daqiao, 九龙江大桥), it would take at least two days for the enemy to repair the bridge, but in reality, the enemy had the bridge repaired in only two hours. As the news reached the surprised nationalists, it was obvious that the mission was over and in order to avoid complete disaster, the nationalists wisely chose to give up the fighting by withdrawing the surviving forces and abandoned the island.
The island was isolated from the rest of friendly bases and there was simply no way for the nationalist to permanently hold it, as demonstrated three years ago in the Battle of Dongshan Island, and though the campaign three year later might have been a relatively successful strike, any attempts to turn the island into a permanent base would certainly result in the same outcome as the battle three years earlier in which the nationalists were forced to abandon the island, as shown in this campaign once again.
- List of Battles of Chinese Civil War
- Project National Glory
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- History of the People's Liberation Army
- Chinese Civil War
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