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|Defense of Hengyang|
|Part of the Second Sino-Japanese War of World War II|
|Commanders and leaders|
|10th Corps, 17,000 men||11th Army, 110,000+ men|
|Casualties and losses|
|Japanese source: 19,000 dead and wounded |
Chinese source: 48,000 –60,000 dead and wounded
|3,100 civilians killed|
The Battle of Hengyang was the longest defense of a single city of the entire Second Sino-Japanese War. When Changsha fell to the Imperial Japanese Army on June 19, 1944, Hengyang became their next target. The reorganized 11th Army, consisting of 10 divisions, 4 brigades, and over 110,000 men, assumed the task of attacking Hengyang.
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. Some sources in the modern People's Republic of China date the beginning of the war to the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931.
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.
The Imperial Japanese Army was the official ground-based armed force of the Empire of Japan from 1868 to 1945. It was controlled by the Imperial Japanese Army General Staff Office and the Ministry of the Army, both of which were nominally subordinate to the Emperor of Japan as supreme commander of the army and the navy. Later an Inspectorate General of Aviation became the third agency with oversight of the army. During wartime or national emergencies, the nominal command functions of the emperor would be centralized in an Imperial General Headquarters (IGHQ), an ad-hoc body consisting of the chief and vice chief of the Army General Staff, the Minister of the Army, the chief and vice chief of the Naval General Staff, the Inspector General of Aviation, and the Inspector General of Military Training.
The city was an important railroad junctionand Hengyang Airport was used by USAAC General Claire Lee Chennault's Flying Tigers which were engaged in bombing operations of the Japanese homeland. Therefore, Field Marshal Hajime Sugiyama(杉山 元), chief of imperial staff and war minister, ordered the city must be taken at all costs.
Hengyang Bajialing Airport is a former military and civil airport in the city of Hengyang in Hunan Province, China. It is located in Zhuhui District east of the Xiang River. Bajialing Airport has not served commercial flights since 1995, and the new Hengyang Nanyue Airport was opened in December 2014 to serve as Hengyang's civil airport.
Claire Lee Chennault was an American military aviator best known for his leadership of the "Flying Tigers" and the Republic of China Air Force in World War II.
Hajime Sugiyama was a Japanese field marshal who served intermittently as Chief of the Imperial Japanese Army General Staff, and minister of war between 1937 and 1945. As War Minister in 1937, he was one of the principal architects of the China Incident or Second Sino-Japanese War. Later, as Army Chief of Staff in 1940 and 1941, he was a leading advocate of expansion into Southeast Asia and later preventive war against the United States. Following the outbreak of hostilities in the Pacific on December 7, 1941, Sugiyama oversaw all army operations until being forced to resign by Prime Minister Hideki Tojo in February 1944. After Tojo's ouster, he again held the post of Minister of War in Prime Minister Kuniaki Koiso's cabinet until its dissolution in April 1945.
On June 22, Japanese 68th and 116th divisions received their orders to attack the city and to take it within 2 days, which started the 48 days of siege and defense.
After successfully capturing Changsha on 18 June 1944, the Japanese 11th army, led by Lieutenant General Isamu Yokoyama (橫山 勇) continued its drive southwards. Yokoyama's plans were to capture Hengyang and Guilin to launch an attack on Liuzhou, thus concluding Operation Ichi-Go.
The Battle of Changsha (1944) was an invasion of the Chinese province of Hunan by Japanese troops near the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War. As such, it encompasses three separate conflicts: an invasion of the city of Changsha and two invasions of Hengyang.
Isamu Yokoyama was a general in the Imperial Japanese Army, commanding Japanese ground forces in China during the Second Sino-Japanese War and Pacific War.
Guilin, formerly romanized as Kweilin, is a prefecture-level city in the northeast of China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. It is situated on the west bank of the Li River and borders Hunan to the north. Its name means "Forest of Sweet Osmanthus", owing to the large number of fragrant sweet osmanthus trees located in the region. The city has long been renowned for its scenery of karst topography and is one of China's most popular tourist destinations.
The Allies' successful execution of Operation Overlord in Normandy in 1944 drew attention toward Europe as victory against Nazi Germany was anticipated. On the other hand, however, China was nearing a breaking point: following the loss of Changsha, failure to hold Hengyang could result in the Japanese crossing into Guilin and driving west towards Guizhou, from where they could directly attack Chongqing, thus placing the Chinese wartime capital and military headquarters in imminent danger.
Operation Overlord was the codename for the Battle of Normandy, the Allied operation that launched the successful invasion of German-occupied Western Europe during World War II. The operation was launched on 6 June 1944 with the Normandy landings. A 1,200-plane airborne assault preceded an amphibious assault involving more than 5,000 vessels. Nearly 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel on 6 June, and more than two million Allied troops were in France by the end of August.
Nazi Germany is the common English name for Germany between 1933 and 1945, when Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party (NSDAP) controlled the country through a dictatorship. Under Hitler's rule, Germany was transformed into a totalitarian state where nearly all aspects of life were controlled by the government. The official name of the state was Deutsches Reich until 1943 and Großdeutsches Reich from 1943 to 1945. Nazi Germany is also known as the Third Reich, meaning "Third Realm" or "Third Empire", the first two being the Holy Roman Empire (800–1806) and the German Empire (1871–1918). The Nazi regime ended after the Allies defeated Germany in May 1945, ending World War II in Europe.
Guizhou, is a province of the People's Republic of China located in the southwestern part of the country. Its capital city is Guiyang. Guizhou is a relatively poor and economically undeveloped province, but rich in natural, cultural and environmental resources. Demographically it is one of China's most diverse provinces. Minority groups account for more than 37% of the population.
Chinese supreme commander Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek's relocation of 15 elite divisions to support American general Joseph Stilwell's forces in Burma on 15 June resulted in Chinese forces in Hunan and Guangxi being spread out very thinly.On the other hand, the Japanese offensive involved more troops than any other battle since the war's start, with General Yokoyama deploying 400,000 troops in 150 battalions.
Chiang Kai-shek, also known as Generalissimo Chiang or Chiang Chungcheng and romanized as Chiang Chieh-shih or Jiang Jieshi, was a Chinese politician and military leader who served as the leader of the Republic of China between 1928 and 1975, first in mainland China until 1949 and then in Taiwan until his death. He was recognized by much of the world as the head of the legitimate government of China until 1971, during which the United Nations passed Resolution 2758.
Joseph Warren Stilwell was a United States Army general who served in the China Burma India Theater during World War II. His caustic personality was reflected in the nickname "Vinegar Joe".
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.
Although the Chinese army did gain access to American lend-lease weapons by mid-1944, this was severely restricted, as most of this equipment was still in India, held up by General Stilwell for his forces in Burma. During the siege of Hengyang, Stilwell ordered the destruction of Guilin's airfield and removal of its outer bridge on 21 June.
When the Japanese army captured Changsha and pressed southwards, the Chinese units seemed powerless, because during the defense of Changsha, they dispersed in the face of completely superior Japanese power. Logistics and communication were thus very difficult to maintain. Although Yang Sen's 27th army group and Wang Lingji's 30th army group did fiercely engage the Japanese army at Liling and Chaling respectively, they were unable to stop the advance of the overwhelming Japanese force. As a result, Hengyang was surrounded and unable to receive outside support.
Liling is a county-level city and the 12th most populous county-level division in Hunan Province, China; it is under the administration of the prefecture-level city of Zhuzhou. Located on the middle eastern margin of the province, the city is bordered to the north by Liuyang City, to the west by Lusong District and Zhuzhou County, to the south by You County, to the east by Xiangdong District of Yichun, Shangli County of Jiangxi. Liling City covers 2,157 km2 (833 sq mi) with registered population of 978,900 and resident population of 1,060,000.
Chaling County is a county in Hunan Province, China; it is under the administration of Zhuzhou City. Located on the south eastern margin of the province, the county is bordered to the north by You County, to the east by Anren County, to the south by Yanling County, to the east by Lianhua, Yongxin Counties and Jinggangshan City of Jiangxi. Chaling County covers 2,500 km2 (970 sq mi), as of 2015, it had a registered population of 631,036 and resident a population of 586,000. The county has 4 subdistricts, 10 towns and 2 townships under its jurisdiction, the county seat is at Yunyang Subdistrict (云阳街道).
The rapid loss of Changsha came as a shock to the Chinese military headquarters, and also resulted in the Chinese having a difficult time to reestablish their line of defense due to overwhelming Japanese advantages in manpower and material. Chiang Kai-shek hurriedly contacted two-star Lieutenant General Fang Xianjue(zh:方先覺), commander of the 10th Corps, ordering him to hold the city for two weeks, in a desperate attempt to buy time for the HQ to fully analyse the situation.
Led by General Fang, the 10th Corps had previously participated in the Battle of Changde in November–December 1943, during which it suffered heavy casualties. After the siege of Changde was successfully lifted, the Corps was relocated to Mount Heng for replacements and resupplies. Only on 2 June was it deployed to protect Hengyang.
The 10th Corps consisted of 3 divisions: the 3rd, 10th, and 190th. In particular, the 10th and 190th division were reserve divisions, and the latter had yet to receive actual troops: it had an en cadre, but no soldiers. Later, the corps gained the temporary 54th division, which was originally stationed at Hengyang, but this division only had the strength of a single regiment. On paper, the Chinese army had 4 divisions, but in reality, they only had 7 regiments. Even with the addition of its mountain artillery company, field artillery company and anti-tank company, its total strength did not exceed approximately 17,000 men.
Hengyang was a small rectangular city situated in the south-eastern plains of Hunan province, south of the foothills of Mount Heng (Hunan). It spanned 500 metres from east to west, and up to 1600 metres from north to south. The Beijing-Guangzhou and Hunan-Guangxi Railways intersected at Hengyang, making it the transportation hub linking the provinces of Hunan, Jiangxi, Guangxi, and Guizhou. The city was also the gateway to south-western China. Additionally, the Hengyang Airport was used by USAAC General Claire Lee Chennault's Flying Tigers, which were engaged in bombing operations of the Japanese homeland. Thus, its military and economic importance made it an inevitable place of contention. A Chinese failure to hold the city could result in the Japanese crossing into Guilin and driving west towards Guizhou, from where they could directly attack Chongqing, thus placing the Chinese wartime capital and military headquarters in imminent danger.
Along Hengyang's eastern border, the Xiang River ran from north to south. North of the city, the Zheng River ran from west to east. West of the city was marshlands. Thus, the only terrain favourable for the Japanese armoured and mechanized units lay in the south, where hills ran westward along the Hunan-Guangxi Railway starting from the Jiangxi Hall(zh:江西会馆), including Fengshushan(zh:枫树山), Zhangjiashan(zh:张家山), and Huxingchao(zh:虎形巢). By advancing westwards and crossing the Xiang River, the Japanese could directly attack the city from the south. Hence, the outer southern gate of the city became a critical location of contention from the outset.
General Fang deployed his most elite unit, the reserve 10th division, led by General Ge Xiancai(zh:葛先才) to protect the vitally important southern gate, while the reserve 190th division was deployed on the eastern flank, responsible for protecting the area outside the city east of the Xiang River, bounded by Quanxi(zh:泉溪) in the east, and Wumaguicao(zh:五马归槽) and the Hengyang Airport in the west. The temporary 54th division was deployed just north of the 190th, at Fengjiachong(zh:冯家冲), on the west bank of the Leishui River. The 3rd division was deployed west of the city, its area of responsibility spanning from Gaojiatang(zh:高家塘) in the north to the western bus station in the south. The corps command post was originally situated at Fengshushan, in the south of the city, but was later relocated to the central bank, in the centre of the city.
Given that the Japanese captured Changsha on 18 June, just 16 days after the Chinese 10th Corps entered Hengyang, the Chinese had very limited time to prepare their defenses. In spite of this, the Chinese commander General Fang ordered a mandatory evacuation for 300,000 inhabitants of the city, and, recognising his force's inferiority in manpower and material, abandoned some pre-existing defensive positions south of the Hunan-Guangxi Railway in order to minimise the area which his force had to defend, and began to construct earthworks, trenches, pillboxes and bunkers.The Chinese created man-made cliffs of 6 meters high, and covered the place with well-placed mortar and light artillery. In the hills to the south, General Fang deployed machine guns on the summits flanking saddles, creating tight killzones over the open ground, where abatises were also deployed. This meant that the Japanese only had two ways to advance: to scale the cliffs with ladders, or to brave the machine gun fire and run across the open fields.
Just before the Japanese launched their attack, the Chinese Army HQ was able to spare some American artillery for the defense of the city. However, the 10th Corps had to send its artillery battalion to Kunming to collect it. The battalion traveled to Jinchengjiang(zh:金城江) via train, and marched to Kunming from there. En route back to Jinchengjiang after collecting the equipment, however, it found the Hunan-Guangxi Railway to be flooded with refugees. The battalion could only abandon some of the equipment and hurry back to Hengyang. By the time they arrived, the battle had already begun. The battalion managed to bring back 9 37 mm (1 in) anti-tank guns, 6 75 mm (3 in) field guns, 26 mortars, and 2 bazookas, weapons which would play a major role in the Chinese defense.
Japanese commander Lieutenant General Yokoyama planned to take the city within two days. On 22 June, the Imperial Japanese Army Air Service began dropping incendiary bombs on the city, and a 30,000 strong force made up of the Japanese 68th and 116th Divisions of the 11th Army attacked the city at eight o'clock that night, with the 68th attacking from the south and the 116th attacking from the west.
Although faced with concentrated heavy artillery fire, the Chinese held fast. Only when the Japanese troops began assaulting the Chinese defensive positions did their commanders realize something was not right as their troops rapidly fell to small arms fire from the Chinese.
Japanese 68th division veteran Yamauchi Iwao (山内 巖) recalled in an interview in 1995:
During the attack, Japanese soldiers fell one by one, making the sound of 'pa-da, pa-da'. Later, our platoon commander was the first to reach the frontmost pillbox. Later, I reached it as well. Soldiers as near as five metres behind me all fell - 'pa-da, pa-da'. After withdrawing, almost our entire company had been killed: there were only about 30 survivors.
The Japanese forces failing to make any progress for two days straight, Lieutenant General Sakuma Tamehito (佐久間為人), commander of the Japanese 68th Division, took it upon himself to personally inspect the battlefield from a hill. Shortly afterwards, a barrage of mortar rounds fell on his position, critically wounding the General and a number of his staff. These rounds had come from the mortar battery of the Chinese 28th regiment, reserve 10th division, stationed at Fengshushan.
Battery commander Bai Tianlin(zh:白天霖) recalled in an interview in 1995:
[700 to 900] metres in front [of our position] was a place called Oujiating(欧家町). There were at least 7 to 8 [enemy troops], even 30 of them. As soon as I saw it, [I thought], "this is a good target. How could there be so many [enemy troops] gathered in one location to reconnoitre our position? This shows that it could not be a regiment commander." After I saw it, I immediately made the decision. Each mortar was to fire one round - concentrated fire. In an instant, eight rounds were fired and simultaneously landed on that group of [enemy troops]. It was enjoyable to watch.
A severe shortage of ammunition resulted in the Chinese adopting a "Three Don't's Policy"(三不主义): Don't shoot at what you can't see (看不见不打); Don't shoot at what you can't aim at (瞄不准不打); and Don't shoot at what you can't kill (打不死不打). While such policy allowed them to hold fast in the early stages of the battle, it also necessitated fierce close quarters combat.
Company commander in the 10th Corps' reconnaissance battalion Zang Xiaoxia(zh:臧肖侠) recalled in an interview in 1995:
I requested mortar fire. I waited for a very long time, until dusk, before a mortar platoon commander came. He fired seven or eight rounds and stopped. I asked him, "Why did you fire the mortar like that?".
He replied, "Sir, we are out of mortar rounds." I said, "What is going on?"
He replied, "What rounds do you need? My mortar is an 81 mm (3 in) mortar. We had used up all our 81 mm (3 in) mortar rounds ages ago. We still have some 82 mm (3 in) mortar rounds remaining [captured from the Japanese]. Our staff are using rocks to grind them down by 1 mm (0.04 in), before loading them up to fire. How many rounds do you think they can grind down in a day? The staff's hands are already worn out from all the grinding."
Despite incurring heavy casualties through seven days and nights of continuous assault, the Japanese 68th and 116th divisions, which had a combined strength of 30,000 men, failed to take any ground from the 17,000-strong Chinese 10th Corps. As a result, General Yokoyama called a halt to the attack on 2 July.
During this time, the Chinese 190th division withdrew from their original positions east of the Xiang River, falling back to the city to make their last stand.
By this time, the small city of Hengyang had already been reduced to rubble by continuous Japanese air strikes.
Chinese medic Wang Nutao(zh:汪怒濤) from the reserve 10th division recalled in an interview in 1995:
Every evening, the Japanese planes would fly bombing runs with incendiary bombs. Afterwards, all patients would no longer be sent to field hospitals. No patients were sent any more. There were no more patients. How could it be that there are no patients in a battle? The patients no longer went to the rear, since they knew that they were going to die either way, and chose to die fighting the Japanese.
However, the Chinese Air Force, stationed at Zhijiang, also launched numerous air attacks against the invading Japanese forces throughout this battle. These attacks had a positive effect on the morale of the Chinese troops on the ground.
On the morning of 11 July, the Japanese launched their second try, and did not score any major success despite some small gains. On the other hand, while the Chinese were still able to hold the line, their ammunition shortages had become an increasingly severe problem by now: their original supply of 10 days' worth of ammunition having been substantially depleted by half a month of intense fighting. Hence, they resorted to engaging the enemy in close quarters with hand grenades.
By mid-July, the Japanese troops no longer used ladders to climb up the cliffs. Instead, they used the piles of their corpses as ramps to scale the cliffs.
Zang Xiaoxia(zh:臧肖侠), a company commander in the 10th Corps' reconnaissance battalion, recalled in an interview in 1995:
At that time I saw that we only had one pillbox left. With no way to resupply, I, as the company commander, could do nothing else but stay in the pillbox and defend it with my life. I jumped inside with a machine gun. The soldier who was already there, said to me while firing at the enemy, "Sir, what are you doing? You shouldn't be here. You should be at the company command post directing the entire company."
I said, "the rest of the company has been wiped out. This pillbox here is all we have left. I'll fight alongside you until death."
The pillbox had two firing ports. We each fired out of one of them. It was only until I entered the pillbox that I saw the enemies' corpses piling up like mountains, blocking the firing port, making it impossible to shoot through. It was only after shooting the corpses to pieces that I could see through.
On 18 July, the Japanese were still unable to break through the Chinese southern defensive lines. Pressured with increasingly high casualties, General Yokoyama once again halted the offensive. On 4 August, Japanese Field Marshal Shunroku Hata (畑 俊六) ordered three divisions to reinforce the 68th and 116th Divisions, increasing the total manpower to 110,000 troops. The 40th Division attacked from the northwest, while the 58th attacked from the north and the 13th attacked from the east.After four days of intense bombing and artillery shelling, the Chinese garrison was reduced to 2,000 wounded men, less than a regiment (3,000).
On 6 August, the Japanese 57th Brigade launched a fierce assault on the Hengyang hospital. The Chinese reserve 10th division's 8th regiment's mortar battery fired its last eight mortar rounds. The Japanese killed around 1,000 wounded Chinese in the Hengyang hospital before engaging in negotiations. On 7 August, General Fang sent a telegram to Chongqing headquarters. In this message, he said: "The enemy broke in from the north this morning. We are out of ammunition and replacements. I have devoted my life to my country. Goodbye." After sending the message, Fang ordered his staff to destroy all communications equipment. The next day, the Japanese army broke into the city and captured General Fang. Fang actually tried to commit suicide, but his officers stopped him and tried to negotiate a truce with the Japanese. After the Japanese agreed not to harm the civilian population and to treat the Chinese wounded humanely, General Fang ordered the remaining Chinese soldiers to lay down their arms. The day was 8 August 1944.
Although the Japanese army suffered huge losses, they held the Chinese commanders in high regard. Japanese Emperor Hirohito personally appointed General Fang Xianjue as commander of a puppet unit, made up of his remaining garrison and some Chinese turncoats. But the local Japanese commanders never trusted him or his officers; they were eventually placed under house arrest. Later studies showed that on 7 August 1944, the day before the Japanese army broke into the city, Chiang Kai-shek had sent a telegram to General Fang, saying: "Reinforcements are on the way. They will arrive at your position tomorrow with no delay." However, Fang never received the message.Chinese special forces under General Dai Li(zh:戴笠), head of China's wartime intelligence service "Military-Statistics Bureau" of National Military Council, carried out a daring rescue mission and freed General Fang and his officers in December 1944. They returned to Chongqing to a hero's welcome and were decorated with the Order of Blue Sky and White Sun, the highest honor for a Chinese commander.
The delay at Hengyang cost the Imperial Japanese Army considerable time and the Tojo cabinet collapsed as the war was not in Japan's favor anymore. Lieutenant General Yokoyama was later relieved of his command due to his refusal to obey orders from General Yasuji Okamura(zh:岡村寧次), commander-in-chief of the Japanese China Expeditionary Forces. The Japanese operation in Hunan did manage to push Chinese troops out of the area, but they could not secure the territory around the railroad or safely transfer war materials to different regions. Because of increased activity of Chinese troops and nationalist guerrillas, they could take no more Chinese land.
Bai Chongxi was a Chinese general in the National Revolutionary Army of the Republic of China (ROC) and a prominent Chinese Nationalist leader. He was of Hui ethnicity and of the Muslim faith. From the mid-1920s to 1949, Bai and his close ally Li Zongren ruled Guangxi province as regional warlords with their own troops and considerable political autonomy. His relationship with Chiang Kai-shek was at various times antagonistic and cooperative. He and Li Zongren supported the anti-Chiang warlord alliance in the Central Plains War in 1930, then supported Chiang in the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Chinese Civil War. Bai was the first defense minister of the Republic of China from 1946-48. After losing to the Communists in 1949, he fled to Taiwan, where he died in 1966.
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