Battle of Taierzhuang
|Battle of Tai'erzhuang|
|Part of the Second Sino-Japanese War|
House-to-house fighting in Tai'erzhuang
|Commanders and leaders|
Rensuke Isogai (10th Division)|
Itagaki Seishiro (5th Division)
North China Area Army, 2nd Army
|100,000-400,000 troops in 10 divisions||
40,000-70,000 troops in 3 divisions|
11+ armored cars
8+ armored fighting vehicles
Unknown number of planes
|Casualties and losses|
Japanese figures: 11,198 casualties |
Chinese estimate: 24,000 killed
30 tanks destroyed
31 artillery pieces
11 armored cars
8 armored fighting vehicles
The Battle of Tai'erzhuang (Chinese: 台兒莊會戰; pinyin: Tái'érzhūang Huìzhàn) was a battle of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1938, between the armies of the Republic of China and the Empire of Japan. The battle was the first major Chinese victory of the war. It humiliated the Japanese military and its reputation as an invincible force, while for the Chinese it represented a tremendous morale boost.
Tai'erzhuang is located on the eastern bank of the Grand Canal of China and was a frontier garrison northeast of Xuzhou. It was also the terminus of a local branch railway from Lincheng. Xuzhou itself was the junction of the Jinpu Railway (Tianjin-Pukou) and the Longhai Railway (Lanzhou-Lianyungang) and the headquarters of the KMT's 5th War Zone.
Political and Strategic Situation
By 1938, the Chinese military had suffered tremendous losses following the fall of Shanghai and Nanjing. In particular, its air force and navy had both been virtually wiped out. Nonetheless, China's resolve in resisting the Japanese invasion showed no signs of weakening. On 30 January, the Japanese military high command, after evaluating the situation in China, decided that no new offensive operations shall be conducted until August. Emperor Hirohito's stance was even more conservative: he believed that it would take at least a year for the Japanese to solidify their positions in their newly captured territory and consolidate their strength before conducting any further operations. Thus, the Japanese high command decided to wait until 1939 before conducting a swift, aggressive offensive in order to decisively end the war in China.
At the same time, Chiang Kai-shek refused to accept the Japanese terms for surrender, publicly declaring: "From now on, the KMT government will not be open for negotiation (今后不以国民政府为谈判对手)." On 20 February, China withdrew its ambassador Xu Shiying(zh:许世英) from Japan. The next day, Japan followed suit, withdrawing its ambassador Kawagoe Shigeru(川越茂). Earlier that year, Chiang had also resigned from his post as Premier of the Executive Yuan, in order to fully dedicate his efforts to the war. The respective actions taken by both sides was indicative of their attitude towards the war: China was now fully committed, while Japan still showed some signs of hesitation.
Despite Hirohito's declaration that no new offensives would be conducted in 1938, the Japanese forces in China were eager to continue their offensive, with morale reaching a peak following the Fall of Nanjing and subsequent Nanjing Massacre. The IJN's preferred strategy would have been to continue advancing westwards along the Yangtze River to invade Wuhan. However, the IJA was reluctant to continue following this approaching of following waterways.
A significant proportion of the Chinese forces that withdrew from Shanghai crossed the Yangtze River northwards into the Jiangbei(zh:江北) region. During the retreat from Nanjing, many scattered Chinese troops also found themselves drifting down the Yangtze and into Jiangbei. The IJA saw this as an opportunity to pursue and destroy this cluster of disorganised Chinese troops, thus ignoring the IJN's strategy of following the Yangtze westwards.
Throughout December 1937, Rippei Ogisu’s 13th Division had pursued the fleeing Chinese forces, capturing Jiangdu(zh:江都), Shaobo(zh:邵伯), and advancing into Anhui to capture Tianchang(zh:天长). Simultaneously, in Northern China, Rensuke Isogai's 10th Division, advanced southwards between Qingcheng(zh:青城) and Jiyang(zh:济阳) to cross the Yellow River, approaching the Jiaoji Railway. Gaining access to the railway would enable it to move westwards then southwards to clear the Jinpu Railway and join forces with the 13th division at Xuzhou. The war had thus moved from the 3rd to the 5th War Area.
The Chinese 5th War Area
The Chinese 5th War Area was bordered by the Yellow River in the north, Yangtze River in the south, and Yellow Sea in the east. The area encompassed all of Shandong province, as well as parts of Anhui and Jiangsu. Its commander was Li Zongren(zh:李宗仁), and its deputy commanders were Li Pinxian(zh:李品仙) and Han Fuju(zh:韩复榘), the latter also being the chairman of Shandong. Despite having risen through the ranks and followed Chiang Kai-shek in the Second Northern Expedition, Han, as a warlord, kept the habit of preserving his own forces: he disobeyed direct orders to defend the northern section of the Jinpu Railway, withdrawing his force, the 3rd Army Group, westwards without ever engaging the Japanese. This opened up a large gap in the 5th War Area’s northern region, allowing the Japanese 10th Division to capture Zhoucun(zh:周村). On the 27th, the Japanese captured Jinan(zh:济南), and in less than a week they had also captured Tai’an(zh:泰安).
The Japanese advance on Xuzhou consisted of 3 routes:
1. 13th Division, commanded by Rippei Ogisu, advancing northwards from Nanjing.
2. 10th Division, commanded by Rensuke Isogai, advancing southwards from Hebei.
3. 5th Division, commanded by Seishiro Itagaki, amphibiously landing at Qingdao, and advancing along the Taiwei Highway.
An ancient city, Xuzhou was a hub linking together the four provinces of Jiangsu, Shandong, Henan, and Anhui. It was also a junction connecting the Longhai and Jinpu railways. The Grand Canal also ran adjacent to it, connecting the Yellow and Yangtze rivers. The city was also the cradle of Han culture, and, for thousands of years, had been a city of vital military importance, with more than 200 wars having been fought in its vicinity.
The Japanese Advance
In January 1938, the Japanese army disregarded the Tokyo headquarters' policy for a one-year truce and pursued the Chinese army retreating from the Shanghai-Nanjing theatre, driving northwards into the three provinces of Jiangsu, Shandong and Henan. These provinces were the area of operations of the KMT 5th War Area. The Japanese planned to fight through the Jinpu Railway from the north and south, regrouping at Xuzhou. From there, they would attack Wuhan and force the KMT into surrender. At this time, the Japanese armies were very powerful, so this operation should have been done with relative ease. As a result, the commanders did not deploy their full forces to complete the task.
But unexpectedly, from January to March, Rippei Ogisu's 13th Division met stiff resistance from the forces of KMT commanders Wei Yunsong and Yu Xuezhong during its attack along the southern section of the railway. Eventually, KMT General Liao Lei's forces arrived, and the Japanese were forced onto the southern bank of the Huai River, unable to escape. As a result, it was unable to launch the planned pincer attack on Xuzhou with the Isogai Division (10th Division).
In the northeast, the Itagaki Division (5th Division) was also advancing towards Xuzhou. However, it was halted at Linyi by KMT Generals Pang Bingxun and Zhang Zizhong and their Northwestern Army. Although insufficiently trained and not very well equipped, the Chinese troops inflicted heavy casualties on the Japanese, who retreated. This engagement not only broke the myth of Imperial Japanese invincibility, but it also humiliated Japanese commander Seishirō Itagaki. Even the Tokyo headquarters were shocked. Although the 5th Division regrouped and tried again, it had lost the element of surprise. As a result, the Chinese victory at Linyi would later have a big impact on the actual battle in Tai'erzhuang.
Of the three Japanese divisions driving into the 5th War Area, the 10th Division was the most successful. This division came from Hebei, crossing the Yellow River and moving southwards along the Jinpu Railway. Because of KMT General Han Fuju's desertion, the division occupied Zhoucun and moved into Jinan without meeting any resistance at all. From there, they arrived at Tai'an. Here, they were faced with fierce resistance from the forces of KMT Generals Sun Tongxuan and Sun Zhen. Although the Japanese did suffer losses, the Chinese were very poorly equipped. As a result, the Chinese soldiers could only form line after line of defence in a desperate attempt to fight off the Japanese, who were backed up by planes, tanks and heavy artillery. When one line was destroyed, they would move onto the next line. Step by step, the Chinese fell back. By mid-March, the 10th Division had fought its way to Yixuan.
At this time, KMT commanders Sun Lianzhong and Tang Enbo arrived in the region with their forces. Although Sun's second group army consisted of two armies, it had taken heavy casualties during the defence of Niangzi Pass in 1937 and had not recovered yet. As a result, its actual strength was only three divisions: Zhang Jinzhao's 30th Division, Chi Fengcheng's 31st Division and Huang Qiaosong's 27th Division. The 30th and 31st Divisions made up the 30th Corps(under the command of Tian Zhennan), while the 27th Division made up the 42nd Corps (under the command of Feng Anbang). 5th War Area commander Li Zongren gave the responsibility of defending Tai'erzhuang to Sun Lianzhong, who stationed Chi Fengcheng's 31st Division inside the district.
On the other hand, Tang Enbo brought four full-strength divisions: Zheng Dongguo's 2nd Division, Zhang Yaoming's 25th Division, Chen Daqing's 4th Division, and Zhang Xuezhong's 89th Division. The 2nd and 25th Divisions made up the 52nd Army, while the 4th and 89th Divisions made up the 85th Army. All of these divisions were reorganised according to the German model and had German advisors attached. As soon as Tang's troops arrived at the battlefield, they began engaging the Japanese north of the Tai'erzhuang area. However, Li Zongren thought that there was too big of a risk of losing the Central Army's elite divisions. His plan was to open up a route for the Japanese to drive southwards into Tai'erzhuang. Then, as long as Chi Fengcheng could hold onto the district, Tang Enbo's forces could drive around the rear of the Japanese forces to encircle them and give the Chinese the upper hand.
On the Japanese side, Rensuke Isogai's 10th Division was not supposed to drive deep into enemy territory alone and attack Tai'erzhuang. It was supposed to have waited for Rippei Ogisu's 13th Division to close in on Xuzhou and Itagaki Seishiro's 5th Division to pass Linyi for additional safety.
However, Isogai was confident enough in his forces. His plan was to take out Tai'erzhuang in a single swift blow to complete the objective of clearing the Jinpu Railway. At this time, Tang Enbo ordered Chi Fengcheng to send out a small force to the north and attack the Japanese 10th Division. His aim to lure the Japanese into Tai'erzhuang was successful. Isogai deployed 40,000 troops and around 80 tanks to attack Tai'erzhuang from the north. From 21 March onwards, the Japanese Air Force launched an extensive bombing operation on the Chinese positions, causing civilians to flee in terror. On 23 March, the district was razed by artillery fire. The next day, KMT Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek flew to the front lines to inspect the defences. He left General Bai Chongxi there to help Li Zongren. The Battle of Tai'erzhuang had begun.
The battle involved a Japanese plan to conquer Xuzhou, a major city in the East. However, the Japanese failed to consider the plans of Generals Li Zongren and Bai Chongxi, who planned to encircle the Japanese in the town of Tai'erzhuang. The Japanese operation started on 24 March. Overconfidence led the Japanese commanders to overlook the thousands of inconspicuous "farmers" in the area, who were affiliated with Li Zongren and cut communication lines and supplies, diverted streams, and wrecked rail lines. By late March, supplies and fuels were being dropped from airplanes to Japanese troops, but the quantity was insufficient.
On 29 March, a small band of Japanese soldiers tunneled under Tai'erzhuang's walls in an attempt to take the city from within. They were caught by the Nationalist defenders and killed. Over the next week, both sides claimed to hold parts of the city and surrounding area, and many were killed in small arms battles.
Finally, the Japanese attacked frontally, failing to consider the greater Chinese numbers. A major encirclement on 6 April, with Chinese reinforcements, preceded a major Japanese defeat and retreat, which the Chinese could not capitalize upon fully through pursuit due to a lack of mobility.
The Chinese captured 719 Japanese soldiers and large quantities of military supplies, including 31 artillery pieces, 11 armored cars, 8 armored fighting vehicles, 1,000 machine guns and 10,000 rifles.
Due to lack of anti-armor weaponry, suicide bombing was also used against the Japanese. Chinese troops strapped explosives like grenade packs or dynamite to their bodies and threw themselves under Japanese tanks to blow them up. Dynamite and grenades were strapped on by Chinese troops who rushed at Japanese tanks and blew themselves up. During one incident at Tai’erzhuang, Chinese suicide bombers obliterated four Japanese tanks with grenade bundles.
Amid the celebrations of the victory in Hankou and other Chinese cities, Japan initially denied their defeat and ridiculed the reports of the battle for days. It was reported in the foreign newspapers, however.
The Chinese victory at Tai’erzhuang was their first major victory in the war. The battle broke the myth of Japanese military invincibility and resulted in an incalculable benefit to Chinese morale.
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- Taierzhuang Campaign
- Memorial museum of the Battle of Tai'erzhuang (in Chinese)
- 台儿庄战役 Map of Tai'erzhuang Campaign in Chinese. (slow to load)
- Axis History Forum Index » WW2 in the Pacific & Asia » The Sino-Japanese War(Campaigns in detail) See Pg. 1-2 for narrative, maps, order of battle and discussion of this battle.
- Taierzhuang Campaign