In mid-1937, following the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, Japan began a full invasion of China. Starting at Shanghai, the Japanese pushed Chinese forces back, capturing the capital Nanjing in December. Even though China had been fighting the longest among all the Allied powers, it only officially joined the Allies after the attack on Pearl Harbor, on 7 December 1941.

Japan's Invasion of China: The Second Sino-Japanese War

Most historians place the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War on July 7, 1937 at the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, when a crucial access point to Beijing was assaulted by the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA). Because the Chinese defenders were the poorly equipped infantry divisions of the former Northwest Army, the Japanese easily captured Beiping and Tianjin.

The Imperial General Headquarters in Tokyo were initially reluctant to escalate the conflict into full scale war, being content with the victories achieved in northern China following the Marco Polo Bridge Incident. However, the KMT central government determined that the "breaking point" of Japanese aggression had been reached and Chiang Kai-shek quickly mobilized the central government army and airforce under his direct command to attack the Japanese Marines in Shanghai on August 13, 1937, which led to the Battle of Shanghai. The IJA had to mobilize over 200,000 troops, coupled with numerous naval vessels and aircraft to capture Shanghai after more than three months of intense fighting, with casualties far exceeding initial expectations.

Building on the hard won victory in Shanghai, the IJA captured the KMT capital city of Nanking and Southern Shanxi by the end of 1937, in campaigns involving approximately 350,000 Japanese soldiers, and considerably more Chinese. Historians estimate up to 300,000 Chinese were mass murdered in the Nanking Massacre (also known as the 'Rape of Nanking'), after the fall of Nanking on December 13, 1937, while some Japanese deny the existence of a massacre.

At the start of 1938, the Headquarters in Tokyo still hoped to limit the scope of the conflict to occupying areas around Shanghai, Nanjing and most of northern China, in order to preserve strength for an anticipated showdown with the Soviet Union. But by now the Japanese government and GHQ had effectively lost control of the Japanese army in China. With many victories achieved, Japanese field generals escalated the war and finally met with defeat at Taierzhuang. Afterwards the IJA had to change its strategy and deploy almost all of its armies in the attack on the city of Wuhan, which by now was the political, economic and military center of China, in hopes of destroying the fighting strength of the National Revolutionary Army (NRA) and forcing the KMT government to negotiate for peace. But after the Japanese capture of the city of Wuhan on October 27, 1938, the KMT was forced to retreat to Chongqing (Chungking) to set up a provisional capital, with Chiang Kai-shek still refusing to negotiate unless Japan agreed to withdraw to her pre-1937 borders.

With Japanese casualties and costs mounting, the deeply frustrated Imperial General Headquarters decided to retaliate by ordering the Imperial air force of the Navy and the Army to launch the war's first massive air raids on civilian targets in the provisional capital of Chongqing and nearly every major city in unoccupied China, leaving millions dead, injured and homeless.

From the beginning of 1939 the war entered a new phase with the unprecedented defeat of the IJA at Changsha and Guangxi. These favorable outcomes encouraged the NRA to launch its first large-scale counter-offensive against the IJA in early 1940. However, due to her low military-industrial capacity and limited experience in modern warfare, the NRA was defeated in this offensive. Afterwards Chiang could not risk any more all-out offensive campaigns given the poorly-trained, under-equipped, and disorganized state of his armies and opposition to his leadership both within the Kuomintang and in China in general. He had lost a substantial portion of his best trained and equipped men defending Shanghai and was at times at the mercy of his generals, who maintained a high degree of autonomy from the central KMT government.

From 1940 on the Japanese encountered tremendous difficulties in administering and garrisoning the seized territories, and tried to solve its occupation problems by implementing a strategy of creating friendly puppet governments favorable to Japanese interests in the territories conquered, the most prominent being the Nanjing Nationalist Government headed by former KMT premier Wang Jingwei. However, the atrocities committed by the Japanese army, as well as Japanese refusal to delegate any real power, left them very unpopular and largely ineffective. The only success the Japanese had was the ability to recruit a large Collaborationist Chinese Army to maintain public security in the occupied areas.

By 1941 Japan held most of the eastern coastal areas of China and Vietnam, but guerrilla fighting continued in these occupied areas. Japan had suffered tremendous casualties from unexpectedly stubborn Chinese resistance, and neither side could make any swift progress in a manner resembling the fall of France and Western Europe to Nazi Germany.

Within a few days of the attack on Pearl Harbor, both the United States and China officially declared war against Japan, and right afterwards the National Revolutionary Army achieved another decisive victory against the Japanese army in Changsha, which earned the Chinese government much prestige from the Allies. U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt referred to the United States, United Kingdom, Soviet Union and China as the world's "Four Policemen", elevating the international status of China to an unprecedented height after a century of humiliation at the hands of various imperialist powers.

Chiang Kai-shek continued to receive supplies from the United States as the Chinese conflict was merged into the Asian theatre of World War II. However, in contrast to the Arctic supply route to the Soviet Union that stayed open most of the war, sea routes to China and the Sino-Vietnamese Railway had been closed since 1940. Therefore between the closing of the Burma Road in 1942 and its re-opening as the Ledo Road in 1945, foreign aid was largely limited to what could be flown in over The Hump. Most of China's own industry had already been captured or destroyed by Japan, and the Soviet Union refused to allow the U.S. to supply China through Kazakhstan into Xinjiang because Xinjiang warlord Sheng Shicai turned anti-Soviet in 1942 with Chiang's approval. For these reasons, the Chinese government never had the supplies and equipment needed to mount any major counter-offensive. But despite the severe shortage of materiel, in 1943 the Chinese were successful in repelling major Japanese offensives in Hubei and Changde.

Chiang was appointed Allied Commander-in-Chief in the China theater in 1942, while U.S. General Joseph Stilwell served for a time as Chiang's Chief of Staff, and at the same time commanding US forces in the China Burma India Theater. However, relations between Stilwell and Chiang soon broke down for many reasons. Many historians (such as Barbara Tuchman) suggested it was largely due to the corruption and inefficiency of the KMT government. However, other historians (such as Ray Huang) found that it was a more complicated situation. Stilwell had a strong desire to assume total control of Chinese troops, which Chiang vehemently opposed. Stilwell also did not appreciate the complexity of the situation, including the buildup of the Chinese Communists during the war (essentially Chiang had to fight a multi-front war - the Japanese on one side, the Communists on the other). Stilwell openly criticized the Chinese government's conduct of the war in the American media, and to President Roosevelt. Chiang continued to maintain a defensive posture despite pleads from the other Allies to actively break the Japanese blockade, because China had already suffered tens of millions of war casualties and believed that Japan would eventually capitulate to America's overwhelming industrial output. Due to these reasons the other Allies gradually began to lose confidence in the Chinese ability to conduct offensive operations from the Asian mainland, and instead concentrated their efforts against the Japanese in the Pacific Ocean Areas and South West Pacific Area, employing an island hopping strategy.

Conflicts among China, the United States, and the United Kingdom also emerged in the Pacific war. Winston Churchill was reluctant to devote British troops, the majority of whom were defeated by the Japanese in earlier campaigns, to reopen the Burma Road. On the other hand, Stilwell believed that the reopening of the Burma Road was vital to China as all the ports on mainland China were under Japanese control. Churchill's "Europe First" policy obviously did not sit well with Chiang, while the later British insistence that China send in more and more troops into Indochina in the Burma Campaign was suspected by Chiang as an attempt by Great Britain to use Chinese manpower to defend Britain's colonial holdings and prevent the gate to India from falling to Japan. Chiang also believed that China should divert their crack army divisions from Burma to eastern China to defend the airbases of the American bombers and defeat the IJA through bombing, a strategy that U.S. General Claire Chennault supported but Stilwell strongly opposed. In addition, Chiang voiced his support of Indian independence in a meeting with Mahatma Gandhi in 1942, which further soured the relationship between China and the United Kingdom.

The United States saw the Chinese theater as a means to tie up a large number of Japanese troops, as well as being a location for American airbases from which to strike the Japanese home islands. In 1944, as the Japanese position in the Pacific was deteriorating fast, the Imperial Japanese Army mobilized over 400,000 men and launched their largest offensive in World War II to attack the U.S. airbases in China and link up the railway between Manchuria and Vietnam. This brought major cities in Hunan, Henan, and Guangxi under Japanese occupation. The failure of the Chinese forces to defend these areas encouraged Stilwell to attempt to gain command of the entire Chinese army, and his subsequent showdown with Chiang led to his replacement by Major General Albert Wedemeyer.

However, by the end of 1944 Chinese troops under the command of Sun Li-jen attacking from India and those under the command of Wei Lihuang attacking from Yunnan joined forces in Mong-Yu, which succeeded in driving out the Japanese in North Burma and securing the Ledo Road, a vital supply route to China. In Spring 1945 the Chinese launched offensives and retook Hunan and Guangxi. With the Chinese army well in progress training and equipping, Wedemeyer planned to launch Operation Carbonado in summer 1945 to retake Guangdong, thus obtaining a coastal port, and from there drive northwards toward Shanghai. But the dropping of the atomic bombs hastened Japanese surrender and these plans were not put into action.

End of the Pacific War

On August 6, an American B-29 bomber dropped the first atomic bomb used in combat on Hiroshima. On August 9, the Soviet Union renounced its non-aggression pact with Japan and attacked the Japanese in Manchuria, fulfilling its Yalta Conference pledge to attack the Japanese within three months after the end of the war in Europe. The attack was made by three Soviet army groups. In less than two weeks the Kwantung Army, which was the primary Japanese fighting force, consisting of over a million men but lacking in adequate armor, artillery, or air support had been destroyed by the Soviets. On August 9, a second atomic bomb was dropped by the United States on Nagasaki. Emperor Hirohito officially capitulated to the Allies on August 15, 1945, and the official surrender was signed aboard the battleship USS Missouri on 2 September 1945.

References and Resources

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Retrieved December 14, 2008, from

Gilbert, Martin. The Second World War: A Complete History. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1991.

Keegan, John. The Second World War. New York: Penguin Books, 1990.