Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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China, Eastern Campaign (April–November 1944)

Japanese offensive in China during World War II. In late 1943, the Japanese High Command decided to launch its first major offensive in China since 1939. There were several goals. One was to seize the airfields in eastern China that were being used by the U.S. Fourteenth Air Force to attack shipping on the Changjiang (Yangtze) River and along the China coast, especially since these airfields potentially could be used by long-range Boeing B-29 bombers against the Japanese homeland. A second goal was to capture the Hunan-Kwangsi, Canton-Hankow, and Peking-Hankow railroad lines in order to secure the land transportation link between the Japanese stronghold in northern China and Japanese forces in Southeast Asia. A third goal was to destroy several large bodies of Chinese Nationalist troops and further the deterioration of the regime of Nationalist Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, perhaps even to the point of collapse.

The offensive, code-named ichi-go (Operation number one), began on 17 April 1944 when 100,000 troops from the North China Area Army pushed south along the Peking-Hankow railroad. Spearheaded by tanks, the Japanese easily brushed aside the poorly equipped Chinese, many of whom were provincial troops commanded by generals who once had been opponents of Chiang. By June, the Japanese had gained control of the railroad and dispersed more than 300,000 Chinese, at a loss of 1,000 of their own dead. Having long experienced onerous taxation, conscription, and mismanagement by Chiang's regime, many peasants aided the Japanese and even attacked groups of retreating Chinese.

The second phase of the campaign began at the end of May when 250,000 troops from the China Expeditionary Army moved south across the Changjiang River. Over the next weeks, despite heavy bombing by Fourteenth Air Force pilots, the advancing Japanese seized the vital rail centers of Changa-sha and, after a fierce 47-day siege, Heng-yang. Following a lull in which they regrouped their forces into the Sixth Area Army, the Japanese resumed the offensive in late August. By the end of November, they had forced the evacuation of many Allied airfields and joined up with other units that had driven north from Canton and Indochina to complete the corridor between northern China and Southeast Asia. The Japanese successes sent a wave of panic through Nationalist China, and for a time, Allied leaders feared the Japanese would drive to the west and take Chungking, the Nationalist capital. The Japanese, however, had no plans to advance to Chungking. Their supply line was overextended, and they were increasingly concerned about a possible U.S. threat to the China coast.

Their 1944 Eastern Campaign was a major victory for the Japanese. They occupied an area inhabited by 100 million people and took control of most of the Nationalists' granary and industrial base, devastating their economy. In addition, the Japanese gained the railroad connection they had sought, inflicted 700,000 casualties on the Chinese, and weakened the U.S. air war in China. Even more important for the long term, the campaign demonstrated the weaknesses of Chiang's ability to wage war, costing him badly needed popular support in his ongoing struggle with the Chinese Communists.

John Kennedy Ohl


Further Reading
Eastman, Lloyd D. Seeds of Destruction: Nationalist China in War and Revolution, 1937–1949. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1984.; Romanus, Charles P., and Riley Sunderland. United States Army in World War II: China-Burma-India Theater. 3 vols. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1952–1958.; Wilson, Dick. When Tigers Fight: The Story of the Sino-Japanese War, 1937–1945. New York: Penguin, 1982.
 

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