DECEMBER I 1937
Pleasant weather almost like Indian summer, with calm seas except at
that usual trouble spot: southern Formosa.
Japanese Player Turn
All eyes are on Canton. Although the Divine Wind master plan had called for a direct attack to seize the harbor, the idea was scrapped as too risky after the defenders had received massive reinforcements. However, by throwing all his weight into the harbor district, Gen. Wu left his other defenses weak. Divine Wind’s Nagumo countered by moving his two divisions across the narrow straits to attack the eastern part of the city instead. With economy of force he relied mainly on his siege guns to have his troops penetrate deep into the city at little expenditure of scarce ammunition [only siege guns draw their 1RE worth supply from ASP ashore]. His reinforcements–another infantry brigade and more artillery–were also landed on the east shore of the estuary. Meanwhile, south of the city the Shanghai Marines moved west to the road to Macao and, assisted by gunboats on the river, made short shrift of a Kwangtung factional division stationed there and then pushed on westward. Coastal barges [an RT] entered the river and posted themselves to function as ferries if needed.
[Whew! Tradewind at Shanghai was a walk in the park compared with this!]
While Canton’s little airforce had busied themselves providing CAP and ground support for the defenders of the harbor, Japanese carrier aircraft attacked the Changsha-Canton rail line, but failed to achieve results. Long-range bombers from Formosa proved better at that job [1 hit].
Meanwhile up north in Shansi, 14 and 108 Divisions reversed their advance on Yanku to clear the Ladies’ Pass in their rear, rolling over an outmatched Shansi division but failing to make contact with the remnants of CCP 120, who had faded into the mountains.
At the Yellow River, 2 Army occupied deserted Kaifeng and Chengchow. One division was split off to reconnoiter toward Loyang. The main body of 2 Army advanced southeastward to engage and begin to envelop the west wing of KMT 1 Army. No major combat actions here.
1 Army also pressed forward relentlessly toward Tungshan and points west hard on the enemy’s heels, providing the eastern pincer squeezing KMT 1 Army. For lack of supplies, still stalled at the Tsinan Yellow River bridge, only one limited attack here [DR]. On their left the troops from the Shantung peninsula crossed the Grand Canal and are approaching the Tungshan-Nanking rail line.
The Shanghai front is almost totally stalled for lack of supply [no ASP]. Only one limited attack was launched south of the rail line to Nanking and succeeded in wiping out one KMT division [tactic here is to concentrate for one attack, then spread out again in exploitation to cover the front anew].
South of Lake Tai a loose picket line of reserve brigades was set up forward of the Grand Canal while 9 Division and subordinate units surged forward unopposed heading south toward Kinhwa and east toward Ningpo. [Haven’t been there myself, but my maps show Ningpo as 15 miles inland and Chinhai as the port.]
Chinese Player Turn
A brouhaha ensued at Yanku, where Shansi troops, no great friends of Chiang Kai-Shek’s administration, became incensed over the KMT commander’s insistence to keep his own men safe and comfortable in the city while letting the Commie comrades take it on the chin. They defected en masse to the guerrillas. Shansi General Yen Hsi-Shan is refusing further cooperation with the central government. [I sounded off too soon about those cooperation rolls. This time Shansi rolled snake eyes for downward shift despite bribe of a res pt, and the buy-off attempt with 3 res pts failed. Greater largesse is called for!] However, enough KMT and loyal factional defenders are left in Yanku to make it a hard nut to crack. Moreover, the Shansi troops around the Ladies’ Pass kept to their positions, so the Japanese now have other worries than to attack the city.
To add insult to injury, the CCP 115 brigade that had not gone underground sortied from the Taiheng Mountains into the Hopei plain and now sits defiantly astride the Shihkiachuang-Chengchow rail line, the lifeline of the Japanese forces in Honan. Add successful guerrilla sabotage of the rail lines and you see the reasons for the smile on Lin Piao’s face. Japan’s negligence in not keeping the rear properly protected has come home to roost!
Farther south, 4 Army retreated slightly to put more distance between itself and the Japanese at the Yellow River, leaving destroyed bridges in its wake. The blocking position on the Chengchow-Siking road was reinforced by a newly raised factional Honan division.
In contrast, 1 Army is faring less well in its retreat from Tsinan. For lack of a rail line straight back and constantly harassed by the Japanese, its main body with most of Chiang’s best divisions has been too slow, and a crisis is in the offing. A saving grace is the fighting strength and still excellent cohesion of this formation, which will deny the Japanese victories as easy as they have got used to. The right wing of the Army is in fighting withdrawal from the Grand Canal. KMT 32 Division was left behind in Tungshan to defend that city to the last and gain time for the general retreat.
The westward advance of the Japanese forces from the Shantung peninsula to the Grand Canal has left a wide gap on their southern flank. A few ad hoc formations that could be spared north of the Yangtze river estuary are moving toward this gap in an attempt to reoccupy the ports of Tunghai and
On the approaches to Nanking, KMT VII Corps is digging in forward of Shaohsing to deny the ex-capital to the enemy as long as possible. All is quiet to the south, where screening forces in the Tienmu hill country and a weak Japanese picket line of reserve brigades face one another. Still farther south, a coherent front no longer exists. Nothing can be thrown in to block Japanese excursions along the rail line to Kinhwa. The garrison of Yungkia [last Chekiang dot city still held by the Chinese] has been reinforced by new draftees, but the road to Ningpo and Chinhai is wide open.
Everything was done to expedite the transfer of reinforcements to Canton. All Yangtze river shipping was used to ferry KMT troops, including two elite divisions, to river ports from where they could be railed south. Most of the scarce rolling stock was shifted to the Changsha-Canton line. However, because of the bomb damage to the rail line, only a trickle of reinforcements has as yet reached the endangered city. This may be too little, too late.
In Canton itself, Gen. Wu still maintained his concentration of strength in the harbor district to deny the port facilities to the enemy as long as possible, even though that left little to beef up the defenses in the other parts of the city. Having delivered one last output of goods, both factories were dismantled in preparation for transfer, should there still be time for that.
It certainly turns out to have been a mistake not to pack Canton with troops right in the initial set-up. No one can predict whether the Tokyo Mandate restrictions will not be lifted early, and a scantily garrisoned Canton then is a tempting prize. With their powerful NGS the Japanese pack quite a wallop, particularly if the Shanghai TF has been freed and the weather gods are kind. The operation is expensive in terms of res pts for landing craft and extra shipping, but the pay-out seems worth the cost.
The Japanese might have been well-advised to secure a Hainan coastal city before attacking Canton. That would have given them an airbase for use by aircraft with range too short to operate from Formosa, as well as a port with 30 MP for RFs to replenish in and then return to Canton with still 90 MP left for NGS preparation (good idea, courtesy Mike Tapner on this list. Still on a learning curve, I overlooked this one, but then you can’t do everything with limited resources).