Thursday, October 16, 2008

Campaign to Suppress Bandits in Central and Southern China

Campaign to Suppress Bandits in Central and Southern China was a counter-guerrilla / counterinsurgency campaign the fought against the guerrilla that was mostly consisted of bandits and second rate nationalist regular troops left behind after the nationalist government withdrew from mainland China. The campaign was fought during the Chinese Civil War in the post-World War II era in the following six Chinese provinces: Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi, Guangdong and Guangxi, and resulted in communist victory.


Nationalist strategies

Like other nationalist futile attempts to fight guerrilla and insurgency warfare against the after being driven off from mainland China, the strategic miscalculation made by the retreating nationalist government contributed at least equally if not greater than the enemy’s political and military pressure to the nationalist defeat in this campaign. The very first strategic miscalculation made by the retreating nationalist government was identical to the earlier one the nationalist government had made immediately after World War II when it had neither the sufficient troops nor enough transportation assets to be deployed into the Japanese-occupied regions of China, and unwilling to let these regions falling into communist hands, the nationalist government ordered the Japanese and their turncoat Chinese puppet government not to surrender to the communists and allowed them to keep their fighting capabilities to “maintain order” in the Japanese occupied regions by fighting off the communists. This miscalculation resulted in further alienation and resentment to the nationalist government by the local population, which had already blamed the nationalists for losing the regions to the Japanese invaders during the war. Half a decade later when the nationalists were driven from mainland China, they had made the similar miscalculation once again in their desperation, this time by enlisting the help of local bandits to fight the communists, and ordering the nationalist troops left behind to join these bandits in the struggle against the communism. However, the bandits were deeply feared and hated by the local populace they plagued for so long, and nationalist troops left behind joining the bandits certainly did not help them win the support of the general population. In fact, it served the exact opposite, strengthening the popular support of their communist enemy.

The second strategic miscalculation made by the retreating nationalist government was also similar to the one the nationalist government had made immediately after World War II when it attempted to simultaneously solve the problem that had plagued China for so long with the problem of the exterminating communists together: Those allied with Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalist government were only interested in keeping their own power and defected to the Japanese side when Japanese invaders offered to let them keep their power in exchange for their collaborations. After the World War II, these forces of former Japanese puppet governments once again returned to the nationalist camp for the same reason they defected to the Japanese invaders. Obviously, it was difficult for Chiang to immediately get rid of these for good as soon as they surrendered to Chiang and rejoined nationalists, because such move would alienate other factions within the nationalist ranks, and those former Japanese puppet government's warlords could still help the nationalists to by holding on to what was under their control and fighting off communists, and they and the communists would both be weakened. Similarly, the bandits the nationalist governments had failed to exterminate were obviously not good candidates for evacuation to Taiwan half a decade later, and using them to fight communists appeared to be the only logical alternative. If the communists were great weakened by the bandits, then it would the nationalists would have easier time in their counterattacks to retake China. If the bandits were defeated, then the nationalists would have easier job to eradicate them later after retaking China. However, just like those , these bandits were only interested in keeping their own power also, and thus did not put any real efforts to fight the communists like some of the nationalists who were dedicated to their political cause. The eradication of bandits by the communist government only strengthened its popular support since previous governments dating back from Qing Dynasty had failed to do so.

The third strategic miscalculation made by the retreating nationalist government was similar to the second one, but this one was about its own troops left behind. The nationalist government face a dilemma: the highly disciplined troops were in desperate need to defend Taiwan, the last nationalist island sanctuary. The less disciplined second rate and undisciplined third rate troops were definitely not suited to be withdrawn to defend the last stand nationalists had made, and they were not given the top priority for evacuation. Instead, they were left behind to fight the communists behind the enemy line, but such move had alienated many of the troops left behind, and it was impossible to expect them to fight their communist enemy with the same kind of dedication like those nationalist agents who believed in their political cause. Compounding the problem, due to the need of bandits’ knowledge of local area, they were often rewarded with higher ranks than the nationalist troops left behind. As a result, the former-nationalist troops turned guerrilla fighters lacked any willingness to work together with the bandits they once attempted to exterminate, especially when many of the bandits had killed their comrades-in-arms earlier in the battles of eradications / pacifications. Many loyal nationalists were enraged by the fact that they had to serve under the former-enemy they once fought. Similarly, the bandits lacked the similar willingness and attempted to expend those nationalist troops whenever they could in order to save their own skin.

The fourth strategic miscalculation made by the retreating nationalist government was financial / economical: due to the lack of money, those bandits turned guerrillas were mostly provided with arms, but not sufficient supplies and money. The bandits turned guerrilla had no problem of looting the local population to get what they need, as they had done for decades, which inevitably drove the general popular support further into the communist side. The little financial support provided by the nationalist government was simply not enough to support such guerrilla and insurgency warfare on such a large scale. Another unexpected but disastrous result of the insufficient financial support was that it had greatly eroded the support of the nationalist government within its own ranks. The wealthy landowners and businessmen were the strong supporters of nationalist government and as their properties were confiscated by the communists and redistributed to the poor, their hatred toward the communist government was enough to cause many of them to stay behind voluntarily to fight behind the enemy line. However, the landowners and businessmen were also longtime victims of bandits due to their wealth, and suffered even more than the general populace. As these former landowners and businessmen turned guerrilla fighters were ordered to join their former bandits who once threatened, looted, kidnapped and even killed them and their relatives, it was obvious that such cooperation was in name only and cannot produce any actual benefits, and the alienation and discontent toward the nationalist government harbored by these once ardent nationalists would only grow greater.

Another problem for the nationalists was the strong disagreement among themselves over how to fight the war against their communist enemy. Military professionals preferred to fight a total war, incapacitate the enemy’s ability to fight, but this inevitably conflicted with the interest of another faction of strong supporters of the nationalist government: the landowners and businessmen, who joined bandits to oppose such tactic. The reason was that landowners and businessmen supporting and joining the nationalist guerrilla firmly believed that the nationalists would be able to retake mainland China within several years and they would be able to regain their lost lands, businesses, and other properties that were confiscated and redistributed to the poor by the communists. As the nationalist military professionals in the guerrilla suggested and destroyed the production facilities and businesses as part of the total war, the landowners and businessmen would not be able to regain any valuable properties after the return of the nationalist government because those properties had been destroyed. The bandits agreed with the businessmen and landowners to oppose the idea of total war for a different reason: when the properties were destroyed and productivity dropped, they would not be able to loot enough supply to survive. As a result, despite the animosities between the bandits and landowners and businessmen, they were united together in the opposition to the military professional faction of the nationalists.


In comparison to the nationalist, the communist goal was much simpler and focused: to exterminate all bandits, which was much easier to achieve than the conflicting strategic goal of nationalists. The communists also enjoyed another advantage in that their command was unified so that they could fight much more effectively in comparison to their nationalist adversary who was unified in name only, but fought independently, despite their impressive number totaled more than 1,160,000. Communists were also much better armed than their nationalist adversaries because due to the repaid retreat from mainland, nationalist government did not have enough time to train and equip the guerrillas left behind, and as a result, only roughly half of the guerrillas were armed with modern weaponry. Communists mobilized 63 divisions totaling over 41,000 troops and an additional 60,000 militia in the Central and Southern China Military Region to fight the local bandits in the regions including western Henan, western Hubei, southern Jiangxi, northeastern Jiangxi, western Hunan, southern Hunan, western Guangdong, northern Guangdong, Pearl River Delta, western Guangxi, southeastern Guangxi and the border region between Hubei, Anhui and Henan. The campaign in the central and southern China was actually consisted of several smaller campaigns including Campaign to Suppress Bandits in Danbieshan, Campaign to Suppress Bandits in Guangxi, Campaign to Suppress Bandits in Western Hunan, and Campaign to Suppress Bandits in the Border Region of Hunan-Hubei-Sichuan.


The communists planned their campaign in three stages, with the first lasting from May, 1949 thru November, 1949. Communist Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi, Guangxi and Guangdong Military Districts mobilized available regular and militia forces launched waves of offensive against bandits and by the end of the year, over 334,600 bandits were annihilated. After a brief relatively dormant period, the bandit guerrilla counterattacked in the spring of 1950. The communist high command of Central and Southern Military Region held a conference in March, 1950 to discuss the next step and decided to use three months to eradicate the bandits. Over forty thousand troop of Hunan Military District to eradicate bandits in western Hunan, Taifu Mountains in Changde and Dragon Mountain in Shaoyang, and by the end of June, 1950, over forty thousand bandits were killed. An equal number of bandits were killed in the same period of time in Pearl River Delta, and on coastal islands in Guangdong. Meanwhile, eight communist regiments of Guangxi Military District managed to kill over thirty thousand bandits in southeastern Guangxi.

In July, 1950, the bandit guerrillas became overly confident due to the outbreak of Korean War, believing that the communist regime would collapse because it was not match to the mighty USA, and it was time for massive offensive. The communist high command of Central and Southern Military Region held a second conference according and decided to reinforce Guangxi, and in Guangdong, concentrating on western and northern Guangdong. In western Hunan, two commands in the north and south would be formed to better coordinate the battles aimed to eradicate bandits in the border region of Hubei, Sichuan, Guizhou and Guangxi provinces. By the end of May, 1951, over half a million bandits were eradicated. This marked the end of conventional warfare which the bandit guerrilla could no longer launch and bandit guerrillas could no longer mass sufficient strength to launch any strikes that posed real danger to the communist regime. By the beginning of June, 1950, the campaign turned into purely counter guerrilla warfare. Communists strengthened their success by sending over thirty thousand cadres to the country side to support the land reform, and managed to won the support of most peasantry class. Communist further changed their tactics by forming over three thousand counter guerrilla teams and fought the bandit guerrilla with guerrilla warfare, and after a year, over seventy six thousand bandits were further eradicated.

On June 1, 1952, communists adjusted their tactic once more due to the progress made earlier, and the concentration turned into counterinsurgency warfare, with the responsibility transferred to police force. However, it must be noted that the Chinese police force at the time, the Public Security Army was a branch of regular army. By April, 1953, another seventeen thousand bandits were eradicated and finally, in June, 1953, all tasks were transferred to police force when communists declared that the campaign ended with the eradication over 1.16 million bandits in Central and Southern China.


Although sharing the common anti-communist goal, the nationalist guerrilla and insurgency warfare was largely handicapped by the enlistment of bandits, many of whom had fought and killed nationalist troops earlier in the eradication / pacification campaign, and compounded by the additional differences within the nationalist guerrilla, the nationalist guerrilla and insurgency warfare against its communist enemy failed. For the communists, in addition to the complete eradication of the bandits, another benefit of the campaign was obtaining a valuable source of tough soldiers: most bandits were captured and surrendered with a significant portion of them later joined People's Volunteer Army to fight in the Korean War, and facing the overwhelming superior firepower of UN, their performance was considered “heroic” and “brave” by the communists. However, due to obvious political reasons, their banditry past was carefully left out in the communist propaganda and it was not until in the late 1990s was the truth finally allowed to be publicized.

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