STRATEGY AND TACTICS
We are now engaged in a war; our war is a revolutionary war; and our revolutionary war is being waged in this semi-colonial and semi-feudal country of China. Therefore, we must study not only the laws of war in general, but the specific laws of revolutionary war, and the even more specific laws of revolutionary war in China. [Selected Military Writings of Mao Tse Tung (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1963), p. 75]
Mao and the Chinese Communist Party acquired a vested interest in a protracted war against the Japanese because its resultant chaos facilitated their expansion in the countryside and allowed them to exploit their guerrilla base areas for political, as well as for military purposes.
Mao Zedong identified four characteristics of China's revolutionary war from which all strategies and tactics derived:
The first is that China is a vast semi-colonial country which is unevenly developed both politically and economically, and which has gone through the revolution of 1924-27... The second characteristic is the great strength of the enemy ... The third characteristic is that the Red Army is weak and small... The fourth characteristic is the Communist Party's leadership and the agrarian revolution. [Mao Zedong, "Characteristics of China's Revolutionary War", in William J. Pomeroy, Guerrilla Warfare and Marxism (New York: International Publishers, 5th printing, 1984), pp. 179-181.]Mao's conception of the war against the Japanese, and eventually the KMT as well, was that of an agrarian-based protracted revolutionary war, passing through three phases. The first phase is devoted to organizing, consolidating, and preserving the regional base areas from which the war will be conducted and sustained. The second phase, involves a progressive expansion of operations against collaborationist, puppet troops, and the enemy. The primary purpose of these operations are to procure arms and supplies. In the final phase comes the decision, or destruction of the enemy. In this phase, the guerrilla bands form into regular line units able to engage the enemy in conventional operations. [Samuel B. Griffith, Brigadier General, USMC (Ret), trans., Mao Tse-Tung on Guerrilla Warfare (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Inc., 1961), pp. 20-22.]
Translated into strategic terms, Mao’s model led the Red Army into fighting a protracted war which was: (1) a war of national resistance against the Japanese; and at the same time, (2) a revolutionary war against the Kuomintang. The war was revolutionary in that its aims went far beyond merely defeating the Japanese: it aimed at establishing Communist power in China proper. Under the cover of nationalist fervor through the 'united front' strategy, they effectively convinced large numbers of people that they were the true defenders of China. Accordingly, the Red Army established large base areas behind enemy lines from which to conduct operations. In the words of General Chu Teh, the commander of the Communist Eighth Route Army:
"Our plan is to establish many regional mountain strongholds throughout north and northwest China." [Quoted in Agnes Smedley, "The Red Phalanx", in Guerrilla Strategies: An Historical Anthology from the Long March to Afghanistan, ed. by Gérard Chaliand (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), p. 55.]
Our regulars can return to such bases for rest, replenishment and retraining... From these strongholds we can emerge to attack Japanese garrisons, forts, strategic points, ammunition dumps, communication lines, railways. After destroying such objectives, our troops can disappear and strike elsewhere.
The chief military aim of the Red Army against the Japanese was to wear them down through protracted guerrilla operations against their lines of communications (LOCs). By establishing guerrilla base areas from which to operate, the Red Army was able to maintain relatively short LOCs, therefore not dependent on long and vulnerable LOCs such as the Japanese were. Moreover, at the same time the Red Army's logistical needs were limited as the guerrillas were, essentially, largely light infantry who were given local support by the peasants. We may note that the communists got most of their arms from Japanese forces whom they had ambushed and defeated, as well as from the troops of puppet governments.
During the war, the Communists’ chief political objective were to prevent the capitulation of Chinese forces, maintain the 'United Front' strategy with the KMT in order to defeat the Japanese invaders, co-opt every Chinese into the struggle, and the establishment of Communist control over China. The Chinese Communist Party’s political guidance provided a major strategic advantage to the Communist forces: a clearly defined objective. All political and military actions were planned and executed with these goals in mind. Translated into military terms, the mission of the Red Army became: (1) to prevent capitulation of the resistance against the Japanese, identify traitors and collaborationist, and continue fighting; (2) to maintain a unity of effort with the KMT and other forces in the struggle against the Japanese. According to Mao "When the Red Army fights, it fights not merely for the sake of fighting but to agitate the masses, to organize them, to arm them, and to help them establish revolutionary political power." [Mao Tse-Tung, "On the Purely Military Viewpoint", in William J. Pomeroy, ed., Guerrilla Warfare and Marxism, (New York: International Publishers, 1968, 5th Printing 1984), pp. 174-75.] Finally, in order to prevent China's complete capitulation, the Chinese Communist Party called for the masses of people to be drawn into civil and military work. In practical terms, this meant that every Chinese had to be co-opted into the struggle against the Japanese.
Operationally and tactically, the vastness of China and the remoteness of the center of Red Army's power ensured its survival through their ability to "move around". As previously noted, Mao identified the Communist limitations as the smallness and weakness of the Red Army which prevented it from engaging the enemy in force and winning quickly; this is why guerrilla warfare was to be used in order to ensure eventual victory. According to Mao, because the enemy was large and strong, he could destroy the Chinese Communist Party and the Red Army if they did not follow a 'United Front' strategy with the KMT in their common fight against the Japanese. Additionally, in order to counteract Chinese weakness, Mao emphasized guerrilla warfare operations as opposed to conventional military operations. He characterized the former as follows:
In guerrilla warfare select the tactic of seeming to come from the east and attacking from the west; avoid the solid, attack the hollow; attack; withdraw; deliver a lightning blow, seek a lightning decision. When guerrillas engage a stronger enemy, they withdraw when he advances; harass him when he stops; strike him when he is weary; pursue him when he withdraws. [Mao Tse-Tung, p. 46]The success of this tactic depends on speed an agility, with an ability to move at a moment's notice.
As an illustration of their readiness in this respect, the Bethune International Peace Hospital located in the Wut’ai base, the largest of the guerrilla base medical centers (1,500 beds), could be evacuated on a half-hour’s notice and was some twenty times. [Chalmers A. Johnson, "The Japanese Role in Peasant Mobilization", Reading H, Course A653 Asian Military History, (Ft Leavenworth KS: US Army Command and General Staff College, Class 1994-95), p. 146.]Therefore if the strategic center of gravity of the Communists was the smallness of the Red Army, then it follows that the operational center of gravity of the guerrillas the preservation of their forces in order to destroy the enemy, both Japanese and KMT. [ Mao Tse-Tung, On Guerrilla Warfare, p. 95.]
Operationally, the best example of Red Army operations against the Japanese was the Eighth Route Army’s Hundred Regiments Offensive. The offensive begun on August 20, 1940, when 400,000 troops in 115 regiments of the Eight Route Army attacked the Japanese forces in five provinces. [Johnson, p. 148.] The operation lasted for three months, it being divided into three phases. The first phase which lasted from August 20—September 10, 1940, consisted of attacks directed against Japanese railroad lines of communications (LOCs) as well as coal mines which supplied the Japanese. In the second phase, lasting from September 20, 1940 to early October 1940, Red Army attacks were directed against Japanese strongholds and blockhouses which bounded or protruded into Communist areas. In the final phase, lasting from October 6—December 5, 1940, the Red Army went on the defensive, counterattacking a reconstituted Japanese First Army which was conducting large scale mopping-up operations against Chinese Communist Party base areas, from the Taihang Mountains of southeast Shansi to the area west of Beijing. [Johnson, p. 148.]
In order to fully appreciate Mao’s strategy, at this point it is worth noting that the main Japanese objectives in China were: (1) the blocking of American economic influence in East Asia; (2) a determination to keep China disunited to facilitate their advance into the mainland; and (3) the fight against international communism, i.e., the Soviet Union . [Saburo Ienaga, pp. 112-113.] After the conquest of a portion of eastern China in 1937-1939, they settled down as an occupation force, installing puppet governments and ruling through them such. The major puppet figures were Pu Yi in Manchukuo, and Wang Ching-wei's Reorganized National Government at Nanking which was established in March 1940. All of these governments were doomed to failure, as Japanese governors and their occupation policies robbed them of any possible claim to legitimacy that they may have otherwise have achieved. Regardless, the aim of the Japanese was to prevent the unification of China, and to control the portions of the country that they had taken through these puppet governments.
Militarily, the Japanese operated primarily in the coastal areas and out of Manchuria. Due to the size of China and the lack of Japanese military manpower, all they could do was to garrison the main cities and try to protect their railway LOCs. This was their main limitation, which combined with the war in the Pacific led to their defeat. They confined their movements largely to secure their LOCs primarily around railroads. As the Japanese did not control the countryside, these LOCs were constantly at risk. Consequently, the Japanese center of gravity was their exposed lines of communications. As the communists controlled the countryside, through their guerrilla operations, they continuously drained the Japanese of their material and manpower resources. The Hundred Regiments Campaign was very effective tactically and caused the Japanese to reassess the Red Army's capabilities and effectiveness as a military force. [Johnson, p. 148, quoting intelligence assessments by the Japanese.] However, it was also very costly to the Red Army, particularly in ammunition.
Moreover, the Japanese response to the offensive was typical of the Japanese: swift and brutal. After the Hundred Regiments Offensive, General Okamura Yasuji, assumed command of the North China Army on July 7, 1941. He instituted the sanko-seisaku or "three-all" policy: kill all, burn all, loot all. (My italics).
The essence of the sanko-seisaku was to surround a given area, to kill everyone in it, and to destroy everything possible so that the area would be uninhabitable in the future. Instances of the policy’s implementation were common: 1,280 persons were executed and all houses burned at Panchiatai, Luan hsien, east Hopei, in 1942. the largest scale destruction occurred in the Peiyueh district of Chin-Ch’a-Chi border region, where more than 10,000 Japanese soldiers carried out a mopping campaign between August and October 1941. The results in that area were some 4,500 killed, 150,000 houses burned, and about 17,000 persons transported to Manchuria." [ Johnson, p. 147.]
The US War department analyzed the Japanese response in the following manner:
The Japanese reply to guerrilla war was a policy of frightfulness. It drove the people into the arms of the communists, because they undertook to organize the rural areas for defense after the regular Chinese armies had been defeated and fled. The people subscribed fully to the Communists' answer to those who doubted their ability to fight the superior Japanese forces: "If we don’t fight, what happens? The Japanese kill us anyway. If we fight, let’s see what happens." [Johnson, p. 158.]
As previously mentioned, the 'United Front' strategy did not last for long. The effectiveness of Chinese Communist Party operations became worrisome for the KMT which was focused on events which would follow after the end of the war, the effect of communist political control being their main concern. In January 1941, the KMT surrounded and destroyed the headquarters detachment of the CCP's New Fourth Army, killing 9000 men and capturing its commander. Chang Kai-shek ordered the Fourth Army disbanded but the Chinese Communist Party refused. Instead it appointed a new commander, Ch'en Yi, and built up the army to 260,000 men by 1945. After Japan attacked the US at Pearl Harbor, the Americans suspected that the Nationalist Chinese were happy to let them fight the Japanese while the KMT fought the communists. For example, the American attache, in the embassy at Chunking noted that over 400,000 of Chang's best troops were manning a cordon around the Shensi-Kansu-Ninghsia Border Region which was the major communist base area.
Thus the combination of Japanese and KMT attacks against the Chinese Communist Party and the Red Army caused the years 1941-42 to be the most difficult for the CCP and the Red Army. The population in the Communist areas in North China was cut from about 44 million to 25 million and the size of the Eighth Route Army was cut from 400,000 to 300,000. [Johnson, p. 149.] But the Japanese policy drove the peasants and the Chinese Communist Party closer together as there was not a village untouched by Japanese brutality. By the Spring of 1943, the Eighth Route Army was again operating in the areas of Hopei and Shantung.
However, the results of the Hundred Regiments Offensive had brought a change in the Red Army's guerrilla tactics. As the Japanese and the KMT were blocking the Red Army's sources of supplies, the Red Army began attacking puppet armies, and these seizures provided the Red Army's major sources of military supplies through the rest of the war.
Additionally, with the entry of the United States in the war against Japan, the guerrillas placed greater emphasis on economic warfare against the Japanese. For example, the Eighth Route Army in May to July 1944 fought off Japanese grain confiscation units in Hopei and Shansi. The Army attacked Japanese storage houses, captured grain, ambushed raiding parties. [Johnson, p. 150.]
COURSE OF ACTION ANALYSIS
The Chinese Communist Party's strategy was clearly effective in achieving its goals and objectives. The Japanese were only able to hold a few strategic points but in the end, Mao Zedong's analysis of the situation combined with a strategy of protracted warfare against a stronger enemy. Mao basically placed the Japanese in the situation that Sun Tzu had warned against: do not engage in protracted war because it will lead to your ruin. [Sun Tzu, The Art of War, trans. by Samuel B.Griffith, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1963), pp. 72-76.] The Japanese accomplished their immediate operations quickly early in the campaign but could not control all of the area of operations, that is to say, the rest of China; therefore the war dragged on. Mao, by preventing the Japanese from achieving quick victory, ensured their ruin, and their ultimate defeat.
Of great significance as well is that the Chinese Communist Party and the Red Army were involved in a revolutionary war as well. As already noted, their military operations were clearly subordinate to their political goal of "liberating" the countryside of both Japanese and the KMT as well as collaborationist. It was this unity of purpose that was their main strength. Some Western commentators have criticized Chinese Red Army operations as lacking significance and as relatively small in number given the nature of the theater. This is an erroneous argument because as we have seen, Red Army operations were geared to the establishment of Communist power in China, which ridding China of the Japanese invaders was but one obstacle and not an end in of itself.
In conclusion, if the Japanese had been able to concentrate all of their forces in China perhaps they might have been able to achieve greater success in their war against the Chinese. However, the Japanese seriously under-estimated the size and scope of China, as well as the capability of the Chinese people to resist. Japan's strategic objectives had clearly exceeded its capabilities. They also could not come to grip with the nature of the war that the Chinese Communist Party and the Red Army forced upon them. As Mao noted:
It has been definitely decided that in the strategy of our war against Japan, guerrilla strategy must be auxiliary to fundamental orthodox methods... The Japanese military machine is thus being weakened by insufficiency of manpower, inadequacy of resources, the barbarism of her troops, and the general stupidity that has characterized the conduct of operations... We can prolong this struggle and make it a protracted war... If we cannot surround whole armies, we can at least partially destroy them; if we cannot kill the Japanese, we can capture them... The destruction of Japan's military power, combined with the international sympathy for China's cause and the revolutionary tendencies evident in Japan, will be sufficient to destroy Japanese imperialism." [Mao Tse-Tung on Guerrilla Warfare, pp. 94-99]