Japanese Invasion of China: Hangkou / Hanhkow (1937-38)

Chinese Army boy soldier Hanglow
Figure 1.--This press photo shows a Chinese boy in Hangkow. He is described as a refugee. We at first thought he might be a Chinese soldier. Many Chinese units were poorly trained and included quite a number of boys with virtually no military training. We now think he is probbly a Boy Scout. A reader writes, "It seems to me he absolutely must be a Boy Scout, given the style of the uniform (which is like other Boy Scout uniforms worldwide from the period and unlike Chinese army uniforms of the period). Moreover, though the last character is obscured, it seems nearly certain the name strip above his right hand shirt pocket says 'Boy Scouts of China' (which is the place on Boy Scout uniforms where it was (and still is) typical to display the national organization within the Scout movement to which the Scout belongs). Interesting that the picture was taken in Hankow - the place where the Boy Scouts of China were founded in 1912." Also note the neckerchief. That is something usually associated with the Scouts and not worn with military uniforms. The photograph is dated September 13, 1938 during the final stage of the Battle for Hangkow.

The Chinese city of Hankow is now known as Wuhan. It was one of the Yangtze River cities first opened up to foreign trade by the Treaty of Tienstin (1858). It was a city of major commercial importance. Hankow was also a major river port on the Yangtze River. The famous China clipper shipss, such as the British Cutty Sark, loaded tea at Hankow in the late 1860s and early 1870s. During the Yangtze high-water season oceangoing vessels even during the early 20th century could reach the port. he middle and lower Yangtze had not been bridged and Hankow was a major ferry point for north-south commerce across the wide Yangtze River. Hankow at the time of the battle was a city of 1.2 million Chines and 0.3 million foreigners. It was the industrial heart of China. Steel works at Hanyang accounting for most of China's steel production. After the horific fall of Nanking, the Chinese government moved to Hankow. Hankow thus became the war-time capital of China and thus s Japanese military objective. The Communists and the Kuomintang briefly formed a united front against the Japanese agressor. The Chinese Goverment operated in Hankow for 10 months. One historian writes, "While it lasted, Hankow became a world center for the democratic struggle against fascism,and became almost a tourist stopoff for writers and demi-diplomats who swooped through to visit the front." [Hayford] The Chinese were not equipped or prepared to fight a modern war. Thus the general practice was to retreat in the face of a Japanese offensive. For Hankow, the Chinese fought. The Battle of Wuhan longest and one of the most importabt of the War. It largest four and half months (June-October 1938). Hankow finally fell to the Japanese (October25, 1938).

Location

Hangkow now know as Wuhan is located just north of the Han and Yangtze Rivers where the Han falls into the Yangtze. It is located in central China, byt the Ysngtze is such a huge river that ships could move up the river into central China. Given the primitive stste of Chinese roads and a railroads, this was very bimportant in the 19th and even eary 20th century.

Background

Hankow was one of the three cities (Hankow, Hanyang and Wuchang) which merged to form moderny Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province. Hangkow was one of the Yangtze River cities first opened up to foreign trade by the Treaty of Tienstin (1858). It was a city of major commercial importance. Hankow was also a major river port on the Yangtze River. The famous China clipper shipss, such as the British Cutty Sark, loaded tea at Hankow in the late 1860s and early 1870s. The Chinese had to grant concessions to foreign countries. There were five foreign concessions: British, French, German, Japanese, and Russian. The center of the concessions was the Bund along the river. The Bund was virtually off limits to the Chinese. Hankow was the destination of missionaries attempting to escpe the Boxers in the northern provinces (1900). The Germans surrendered their concession during World War I (1917). The Nationalists took the city (1926). The Russians surendered their concession afterv the Revolution (1920). The British were forced out of their concession when anti-foreign rioting broke out (1927). The Japanese evacuated their concession at the the outbreak of the War (1937) and thev Nationalists briefly took over the concession. The French surendered their concession during World War II while the Japanese were still in control of the city (1943).

The City

During the Yangtze high-water season oceangoing vessels even during the early 20th century could reach the port. he middle and lower Yangtze had not been bridged and Hankow was a major ferry point for north-south commerce across the wide Yangtze River. Hankow at the time of the battle was a city of 1.2 million Chines and 0.3 million foreigners. It was the industrial heart of China. Steel works at Hanyang accounting for most of China's steel production.

Chinese War-time Capital (1937-38)

After the horific fall of Nanking, the Chinese government moved to Hankow. Hankow thus became the war-time capital of China and thus s Japanese military objective. The Communists and the Kuomintang briefly formed a united front against the Japanese agressor. The Chinese Goverment operated in Hankow for 10 months. One historian writes, "While it lasted, Hankow became a world center for the democratic struggle against fascism,and became almost a tourist stopoff for writers and demi-diplomats who swooped through to visit the front." [Hayford] Hangkow was a port, but Japanese possession of Nanking and the Japanese Navy operating along the Chinese cpast meant that the Chinese could not obtain supplies through the port.

Battle of Hangkow (June-October 1938)

The Chinese were not equipped or prepared to fight a modern war. Thus the general practice was to retreat in the face of a Japanese offensive. For Hankow, the Chinese fought. After the loss of Nanking, lower on the Yangtze,the Chinese massed some 0.8 million troops in an effort to defend Hankow. The Chinese military operation was massive, but poorly organized. An American observer at the time estimated that only 7 out of more than 60 army and army group commanders were competent or reliable. [Dorn] The Battle of Wuhan was, however, the longest and one of the most important of the War. It lasted four and half months (June-October 1938). At the time, the world's focus was on the possibility of war in Europe over Czechoslovakia and the Munich crisis. The Japanese moved up the Yangtze toward Hangkow. They launched their offensive (early June). They moved river gunboats and destroyers up the Yangtze to provide artillery support as they moved up the river. They reached Matang, halfway betweem Nanking and Hankow (June 24). The Chinese had heavily fortified Matang, but under heavy Japanese naval bombardment, the port fell in only 3 days. This opened the way for the Japanese gunboats and destroyers to move further upriver toward Hangkow. The Chinese had expected Matang to hold out longer. The Japanese thus took Hukou further up the Yangtze before reinforcenments could reach the city. The Chinese abandoned Kiukiang (July 26). This opened the way to Hankow itself. The Japanese advanced on Wuhan from the north and northeast and Wuchang and Hanyang from the south and southeast (late July). The morale of the Chinese in Hangkow began to decline. After the Rape of Nanking, they were terrified of Japanese atrocities which were reported at Kiukiang. There was also an epidemic of malaria. The Kuomintang government fled the city (early September). Hankow finally fell to the Japanese (October25, 1938).

Results

This was the last major effort of the Chinese to protect their major cities. Following the fall of Hangkow, both the Nationalists and Communists withdrew to the interior. This meant an end to the pitched battles following the Japanese invasion. The Nationalists restablished their capital in Chunking where they could be supplied over the Burma Road. Here deep in the interior the Japanese found it difficult to mass the forces needed for a major offensive. The War continued at a lower level and frustrated the Japanese who had envisioned a short campaign. The Chinese stalemate proved very expensive to the Japanese. Rather than a bonanza envisioned from exploting Chinese raw materials and selling the vast Chinese market, the Japanese were forced to conduct costly military operations for several years. The invasion of China was also the primary cause of rising diplomstic tension with America. The subsequent Japanese decesion to attack America and launch the Pacific war (1941) was primarily premised on obtaining the resources needed to complete the conquest of China and ending foreign support for China.

Further Military Action at Hanhkow

Large-scale operations in China were not resumed until the Japanese launched the the Ichi-go offensive (1944). The Japanese 11 Army was based in Hangkow along with 1 Air Brigade and 66 Squadron. The U.S. Air Force struck at the Japanese in Hangkow (December 18, 1944).

Sources

Dorn (1974).

Hayford, Charles.






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Created: 3:28 AM 11/5/2009
Last updated: 6:05 PM 9/19/2011