Battle of Changsha (1939)

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First Battle of Changsha
Part of the Second Sino-Japanese war
IJA, Battle of Changsha, China, September 1939.jpg
Japanese soldiers during the battle of Changsha
Date17 September – 6 October 1939 [1]
14 September - 13 October 1939 [2]
Location Changsha and proximity
Result Chinese victory
Flag of the Republic of China.svg  Republic of China Merchant flag of Japan (1870).svg  Empire of Japan
Commanders and leaders
Flag of the Republic of China Army.svg Chen Cheng
Flag of the Republic of China Army.svg Xue Yue
Flag of the Republic of China Army.svg Guan Linzheng
Flag of the Republic of China Army.svg Yang Sen [3]
War flag of the Imperial Japanese Army.svg Yasuji Okamura
War flag of the Imperial Japanese Army.svg Masatoshi Saito
War flag of the Imperial Japanese Army.svg Ryotaro Nakai
War flag of the Imperial Japanese Army.svg Shinichi Fujita
War flag of the Imperial Japanese Army.svg Shiro Inaba
War flag of the Imperial Japanese Army.svg Shizuichi Tanaka
War flag of the Imperial Japanese Army.svg Shigetaro Amakasu
Units involved

Flag of the Republic of China Army.svg  National Revolutionary Army

War flag of the Imperial Japanese Army.svg  Imperial Japanese Army
~240,000 troops in 5 Army Groups, 1 Army, and 7 Corps divided between 30 Divisions in total. ~100,000 troops in the 11th Army split between 6 Divisions
12 naval ships
100+ aircraft
100+ motor boats [4]
Casualties and losses
~40,000 40,000+ [1]

The First Battle of Changsha (17 September 1939 – 6 October 1939) was the first of four attempts by Japan to take the city of Changsha (長沙市), Hunan (湖南省), during the second Sino-Japanese War. It was the first major battle of the war to fall within the time frame of what is widely considered World War II.

Changsha Prefecture-level city in Hunan, Peoples Republic of China

Changsha is the capital and most populous city of Hunan province in the south central part of the People's Republic of China. It covers 11,819 km2 (4,563 sq mi) and is bordered by Yueyang and Yiyang to the north, Loudi to the west, Xiangtan and Zhuzhou to the south, Yichun and Pingxiang of Jiangxi province to the east. According to 2010 Census, Changsha has 7,044,118 residents, constituting 10.72% of the province's population. It is part of the Chang-Zhu-Tan city cluster or megalopolis.

Hunan Province

Hunan is a province of the People's Republic of China, located in the middle reaches of the Yangtze watershed in South Central China; it borders the province-level divisions of Hubei to the north, Jiangxi to the east, Guangdong and Guangxi to the south, Guizhou to the west, and Chongqing to the northwest. With a population of just over 67 million as of 2014 residing in an area of approximately 210,000 km2 (81,000 sq mi), it is China's 7th most populous and the 10th most extensive province-level by area.

Second Sino-Japanese War military conflict between the Republic of China and the Empire of Japan from 1937 to 1945

The Second Sino-Japanese War was a military conflict fought primarily between the Republic of China and the Empire of Japan from July 7, 1937, to September 2, 1945. It began with the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in 1937 in which a dispute between Japanese and Chinese troops escalated into a battle.


Background and strategy

The war had reached a stalemate after two years of fighting. Professor Fu Sinian (傅斯年) noted in July 1939 that while the Chinese army had become stronger, the Japanese army had weakened. [5]

On 15 August, the 11th Army came up with the general plans for a campaign south of the Yangtze, ranging 250 kilometers (160 mi) from the Xinjiang River to the Gan River (贛江). In early September, Japanese General Toshizō Nishio of the "Japanese Expeditionary Forces to China" and Lieutenant-General Seishirō Itagaki set out to capture Changsha, the provincial capital of Hunan. The Japanese 101st and 106th Divisions were deployed on the western bank of the Gan River in northern Jiangxi (江西), and the 6th, 3rd, 13th, and 33rd Divisions marched southward from southern Hubei (湖北省) to northern Hunan.

Eleventh Army (Japan)

The Japanese 11th Army was an army of the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Gan River river in Jiangxi, China

The Gan River travels 885 km (550 mi) north through the western part of Jiangxi before flowing into Lake Poyang and thence into the Yangtze River. The Xiang-Gan uplands separate it from the Xiang River of neighbouring eastern Hunan.

Toshizō Nishio Japanese general

Toshizō Nishio was a Japanese general, considered to be one of the Imperial Japanese Army's most successful and ablest strategists during the Second Sino-Japanese War, who commanded the Japanese Second Army during the first years after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident.

Two of the primary motivating factors for the Japanese in launching the attack were the signing of a non-aggression pact by their German ally with their Soviet enemy, and their defeat by Soviet forces at Nomonhan. A large attack on the Chinese would therefore restore morale. [6] In addition, Germany's invasion of Poland starting on 1 September 1939 gave the Japanese further motivation to crush China's will to fight in order to pave the way for the establishment of Wang Jingwei's (汪精衛) puppet government in Central China (華中). [5]

Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact peace treaty

The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact was a neutrality pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed in Moscow on 23 August 1939 by foreign ministers Joachim von Ribbentrop and Vyacheslav Molotov, respectively. The pact was also known as the Nazi–Soviet Pact, the Hitler–Stalin Pact, or the German–Soviet Nonaggression Pact.

Invasion of Poland invasion of Poland by Germany, the Soviet Union, and a small Slovak contingent

The Invasion of Poland, known in Poland as the September Campaign or the 1939 Defensive War, and in Germany as the Poland Campaign (Polenfeldzug), was an invasion of Poland by Germany that marked the beginning of World War II. The German invasion began on 1 September 1939, one week after the signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact between Germany and the Soviet Union. The Soviets invaded Poland on 17 September following the Molotov–Tōgō agreement that terminated the Soviet and Japanese Battles of Khalkhin Gol in the east on 16 September. The campaign ended on 6 October with Germany and the Soviet Union dividing and annexing the whole of Poland under the terms of the German–Soviet Frontier Treaty.

Wang Jingwei Chinese politician, leader of Wang Jingwei regime

Wang Jingwei, born as Wang Zhaoming, but widely known by his pen name "Jingwei", was a Chinese politician. He was initially a member of the left wing of the Kuomintang (KMT), leading a government in Wuhan in opposition to the right wing government, but later became increasingly anti-communist after his efforts to collaborate with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) ended in political failure. His political orientation veered sharply to the right later in his career after he collaborated with the Japanese.

Altogether, it became obvious that the 100,000 strong Japanese force was to converge on Changsha. The Chinese strategy was to counter the enemy column in northern Jiangxi and then encircle the line on the path southward.

Order of battle for Battle of Changsha (1939)

Course of battle

On the night of 14 September 1939, Lieutenant General Ryotaro Nakai's 106th Division drove westward from north of Fengxin (奉新縣), Jiangxi, against Wan Baobang's 184th Division of the Chinese 60th Corps. After fierce fighting, the defending forces abandoned Gao'an (高安). [4] The bulk of Japanese forces then moved northwest to assault Shangfu (上富), Ganfang (甘坊), and Xiushui (秀水). [4] In coordination with Nakai, Lieutenant General Jutaro Amakasu's 33rd Division assaulted Guan Linzheng's (關麟征) 15th Army Group from the south. [7]

Gaoan County-level city in Jiangxi, Peoples Republic of China

Gao'an is a county-level city in the northwest-central part of Jiangxi province, China. It is under the jurisdiction of the prefecture-level city of Yichun, and is located about 35 kilometers west from Nanchang, the provincial capital. It covers an area of 2439.33 square kilometers and has an estimated population of 1 million people. In 1993, it became a city comprising 20 smaller towns. It is well known for calligraphy and a thriving ceramics industry.

33rd Division (Imperial Japanese Army) division

The 33rd Division was an infantry division of the Imperial Japanese Army. Its call sign was the Bow Division. The 33rd Division was raised in Utsunomiya, Tochigi prefecture, simultaneously with 32nd, 34th, 35th, 36th and 37th Divisions. Its headquarters were initially in Sendai. It was raised from conscripts largely from the northern Kantō prefectures of Tochigi, Ibaraki and Gunma.

Guan Linzheng Chinese general

Guan Linzheng was a highly successful Chinese general in the Kuomintang who fought against both the Communists and the Imperial Japanese Army, and was a recipient of Order of Blue Sky and White Sun, the highest honor for a Chinese Nationalist commander.

Having recently captured important strategic locations in Jiangxi Province, Japanese troops began their attacks on Changsha in earnest on 17 September. The Japanese 101st Division (Lieutenant General Masatoshi Saito) and 106th Division started marching westward towards Changsha in neighboring Hunan Province. Meanwhile, the 3rd Division (Lieutenant General Shinichi Fujita), 6th Division (Lieutenant General Shiro Inaba), 13th Division (General Shizuichi Tanaka), and 33rd Division invaded northern Hunan Province to put additional pressure on Changsha. However, the Japanese stretched too far out westward and were counter-attacked by Chinese forces from the south and the north, forcing them to retreat eastward. [1]

Shinichi Fujita is a former Japanese football player.

Shizuichi Tanaka Japanese general

Shizuichi Tanaka was a general in the Imperial Japanese Army, who, at the end of World War II, was commander of the Eastern District Army, which covered the Tokyo-Yokohama area.

On 19 September, Japanese forces proceeded to attack Chinese defensive positions [8] along the Xinqiang River (新墻河) with poison gas. Japan had not signed the Geneva Protocol (1925).

After having recovered Cunqianjie on 19 September, Wang Yaowu's (王耀武) 74th Corps (51D, 57D, & 58D) and Song Ketang's 32nd Corps (139D & 141D) retook Gao'an in a counterattack on 22 September. [9]

Donting Rivers Dongtingriversmap.png
Donting Rivers
Battle of Changsha 二戰紀錄片

On 23 September Japanese forces drove the Chinese out of the Xinqiang river area, and the 6th and 13th Divisions crossed the river under a cover of heavy artillery, advancing further south along the Miluo River (汨羅河). East of Changsha, naval vessels landed the Shanghai Special Naval Landing Forces and portions of the 3rd Division, surrounding Changsha on three sides. [1] [7]

Heavy fighting continued afterwards and the Chinese retreated southward as distraction for the Japanese while supporting battalions arrived on the east and the west for an encirclement maneuver. By 29 September, vanguard troops of the Japanese 6th Division had reached the outskirts of Changsha. However, due to the heavy casualties they had incurred, estimated at over 40,000, with a significant portion being fatalities, as well as the dangerous possibility of their overstretched supply lines being completely severed from constant harassment, Japanese forces were forced to withdraw across Laodao River. [9] Acting group army commander Guan Linzheng issued orders at once for 52nd and 73rd Corps to pursue the Japanese to Miluo River. [9] General Xue Yue (薛岳) ordered a general counterattack on 3 October in pursuit of the Japanese who were south of Chongyang (崇陽縣) and Yueyang (岳陽市). [5]

On 5 October, Chinese troops shot down a Japanese aircraft with orders from General Yasuji Okamura to call off the Changsha offensive, [5] and the nearby Chinese 23rd Division attacked a Japanese Navy port at Yingtian (now Miluo), damaging several vessels. [1] By 6 October, Japanese forces at Changsha were decimated and retreating. Two days later, the remnants fled northward over the Miluo River while the Chinese 195th Division of the 52nd Corps pursued them across the Xinqiang River to recapture their former forward positions. At night, the Chinese launched raids into Xitang and Yaolin. [7]

By 10 October, Chinese forces had completely regained their former territories in northern Hunan Province, southern Hubei Province and northern Jiangxi Province. [7]


Changsha was the first major city to successfully repel Japanese advances. Retaining the city allowed the Nationalist Chinese forces to prevent the Japanese from consolidating their territories in Southern China. The commander of the city's defense, General Xue Yue, was a graduate of the Republic of China Military Academy and a Chiang Kai-shek loyalist.

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Coordinates: 28°12′00″N112°58′01″E / 28.2000°N 112.9670°E / 28.2000; 112.9670