After the defeat of Longhai Campaign, the original nationalist plan of completely annihilating Li Xiannian’s commie force in the North China Plain pocket was disrupted and the scheduled completion had to be postponed due to the need to redeploy nationalist forces to eradicate commie forces under the command of Liu Bocheng and Deng Xiaoping in southwestern Shandong. The nationalists concluded that the overwhelming numerical and technical superiorities over Li Xiannian’s commie force in the North China Plain pocket was sufficient enough to withstand a troop reduction, so three army-sized reorganized divisions originally deployed in southern Shaanxi and western Henan were redeployed to the region where Dingtao Campaign was about to take place. Additionally, two army-sized divisions from Xuzhou and another army from Huainan were also redeployed to the region. The eight army-sized nationalist reorganized divisions already stationed here in the regions of Zhengzhou, Xinxiang, and Shangqiu were reinforced by these additional six units, totaling more than three hundred thousand troops, and the nationalists were confident that the enemy would be annihilated quickly and their bases overran.
Order of battle
Although the total strength of the nationalist in the region exceeded over three hundred thousand, only half of the total force was deployed for the Dingtao Campaign, the nationalist commanders obviously felt that this was enough since it was already twice the size of the troops enemy could field, not mentioning the technical superiority the nationalists enjoyed. This miscalculation provided the numerical and technical inferior enemy an opportunity to concentrate its forces locally, achieving local superiority over the nationalists in the area where the campaign was fought, thus achieving the final victory.
Nationalist order of battle
The nationalist units deployed for Dingtao Campaign included 7 armies:
*Army-sized Reorganized 3rd Division
**Division-sized Headquarter Brigade
**Division-sized Reorganized 3rd Brigade
**Division-sized Reorganized 20th Brigade
*Army-sized Reorganized 41st Division
*Army-sized Reorganized 47th Division
*Army-sized Reorganized 55th Division
*Army-sized Reorganized 68th Division
*Temporarily Organized 4th Column
Commie order of battle
Commie forces deployed for the campaign included fifty thousand troops from the four columns of the commie field army, and another twenty thousand local garrisons.
*2nd Column of the Shanxi – Hebei– Shandong – Henan
*3rd Column of the Shanxi – Hebei– Shandong – Henan
*6th Column of the Shanxi – Hebei– Shandong – Henan
*7th Column of the Shanxi – Hebei– Shandong – Henan
*Units from the 5th Military Sub-region of the Hebei – Shandong – Henan Military region
*Units from the 3rd Military Sub-region of the Hebei – Shandong – Henan Military region
*Independent 4th Brigade of the Southern Hebei Military Region
*Independent Brigade of the Hebei – Shandong – Henan Military Region
The strategies of both sides had changed as the campaign progressed, with the original nationalist plan being at least adequate if not flawless, and even their enemy had concurred for that the plan had posed a serious threat to them. However, the deviation of the original plan by the nationalists due to overconfidence caused the enemy to exploit the weakness of the change and thus lead to the eventual nationalist defeat.
The nationalist plan was simple and direct, they planned to use their numerical and technical superiority to annihilate the commie forces under the command of Liu Bocheng and Deng Xiaoping in the regions of Dingtao and Cao County, to the north of Lanzhou – Lianyungang Railway, and after the total annihilation of the enemy, the enemy base in southwestern Shandong would be overran, and the nationalists would restore the vital transportation / communication line of Beijing – Hankou Railway. To achieve this goal, the defense minister Bai Chongxi and the chief-of-the-general-staff Chen Cheng were sent to Kaifeng to oversee the operation, and Liu Chih was named as the frontline commander-in-chief, and was sent to the Kaocheng – Minquan frontline to command.
*A brigade from the Reorganized 55th Division and another from the Reorganized 68th Division would attack Cao County from the region from Lanfeng to Shangqiu, with the help of a regiment from the Temporarily Organized 4th Column.
*Reorganized 41st Division would attack Dongming from Fengqiu .
*Reorganized 3rd and 47th Divisions would attack Dingtao from Fengqiu in a pincer movement.
*The 5th Army, Reorganized 11th and 88th Division would advanced toward regions including Yutai , Feng County, and Chengwu , from the regions including Yu City and Xuzhou.
Other forces deployed:
*4 brigades and 2 security regiments were tasked to secure the Kaifeng – Shangqiu section of the Lanzhou – Lianyungang Railway.
*General reserves included 13 brigades in the region of Anyang, Xinxiang and the region to the east of these two prefectures.
The main thrust would be that of Zhengzhou front.
Troops of commie 3rd, 6th and 7th Columns under the command of Liu Bocheng and Deng Xiaoping was resting, re-supplying and regrouping in the southwestern Shandong after the commie victory of Longhai Campaign at the time. Due to the overwhelming nationalist numerical and technical superiorities, the commie central military committee, the commie high command, radioed the local commies to instruct them to concentrate their force in each battle to achieve at least 3:1 superiority, and 4:1 was even better when fighting the nationalist regular forces. After destroying a portion of the nationalist force, then targeting the next and so on, accumulate many smaller victories into an eventual large one. Liu Bocheng and Deng Xiaoping analyzed their positions and concluded that a commie victory could be secured due to the following reasons. Despite the absolute numerical and technical superiority, the nationalists only had fifteen brigades devoted to the actual attacks on the frontline, and this strength would be further reduced if the nationalists advance further. Although two armies out of the top five crack nationalist units were deployed in the nationalist thrust from Xuzhou, it actually was not the main trust. Instead, the nationalist thrust from Zhengzhou was the true trust against the commie bases, but among the nationalist forces deployed for this thrust, only the nationalist Reorganized 3rd and 47th Divisions were truly capable. If one of these reorganized division were annihilated, the nationalist thrust from Zhengzhou would be effectively neutralized. With the main thrust gone, the other nationalist thrust from Xuzhou against the commies would not last long either, and the nationalist offensive would be crushed.
Therefore, commies decided to reinforce their local strength by redeploying the commie 2nd Column to the local Dingtao region from northern Henan. A total of four commie columns and additional local garrisons totaling around fifty thousand troops would achieve numerical superiority four times over planned targets, the Reorganized 3rd and 20th Brigades of the nationalist Reorganized 3rd Division. After the two nationalist reorganized brigades had been annihilated in the region of Han’s Village , its remaining brigade and the nationalist Reorganized 47th Division would then be attack and annihilated when the situation allowed. The commies consequently made their following plan:
*A total of ten brigades would be gathered in the region to the west of Dingtao to ambush and annihilate the nationalist Reorganized 3rd Division.
**The right group would be consisted of commie 2nd Column and 6th Column , totaling 5 brigades.
**The left group would be consisted of commie 3rd Column and 7th Column, totaling 5 brigades.
*Two regiments of the commie 6th Column were tasked to lure the nationalist Reorganized 3rd Division to the site of the planned ambush.
*The bulk of commie force of the 5th Military Sub-region of the commie Hebei – Shandong – Henan Military region and a single regiment of the 9th Brigade of the commie 3rd Column were tasked to check the advance of the nationalist Reorganized 47th Division, so that the gap between the nationalist Reorganized 3rd and 47th Division would be further increased.
*Two regiments of the 9th Brigade of the commie 3rd Column a regiment of the 5th Military Sub-region of the commie Hebei – Shandong – Henan Military region were tasked to check the advance of the nationalist Reorganized 55th and 68th Divisions in the region to the south of Cao County.
*The Independent 4th Brigade of the commie Southern Hebei Military Region was tasked to check the advance of the nationalist 41st Division.
*The Independent Brigade of the commie Hebei – Shandong – Henan Military Region and the troops of the commie 3rd Military Sub-region were tasked to block the nationalist 5th Army in the region of Chengwu .
On September 2, 1946, after suffering over fifteen hundred casualties, the nationalist Reorganized 3rd Division succeeded in taking Qinzhai and Peach Garden regions after driving out the two regiments of the commie 6th Column stationed there. Meanwhile, the nationalist Reorganized 47th Division advanced to the regions of Luzhai and Yellow Water Mouth . The relatively rapid advance caused the nationalist commanders to become overconfident, and Liu Chih, the nationalist frontline commander-in-chief altered the original plan of taking Dingtao by a joint attack by the nationalist Reorganized 3rd and 47th Divisions. Liu Chih split his force by ordering the nationalist Reorganized 3rd Division to take Heze and the nationalist Reorganized 47th Division to take Dingtao by itself. As a result, the gap between the two divisions was increased to 10 to 12.5 km from the original 7.5 to 10 km. The rest of nationalist units was 40 to 100 km away from the two divisions, and they were respectively blocked by the enemy in the regions to the southeast of Dongming , south of Cao County, east of Dan County and Chengwu .
Liu Bocheng and Deng Xiaoping immediately decided to adjust their plans accordingly to the change of the nationalist plan. The commies reasoned that the nationalist thrusts from Zhengzhou and Xuzhou had not linked up yet, but the gaps between the nationalist Reorganized 3rd and 47th Divisions was increasing, it would be wise to allow the nationalist Reorganized 3rd Division to advance further, thus isolating itself from the rest of nationalist units, hence becoming a good target for annihilation. The planned site of ambush was moved westward to Greater Poplar Lake region from the original Han’s Village , and once the nationalist division, it would be attacked from both the left and the right. The bulk of the commie group on the right would thrust southward, and the remaining portion would thrust to the eastward from the west. The commie group on the left would first thrust into the gap between the nationalist Reorganized 3rd and 47th Divisions, and then with the bulk of its force attacking northward from the south to coordinate the attack with their comrades in the north, while the remaining force of the commie right group would check the advance of the nationalist Reorganized 47th Division to prevent it from reinforcing the nationalist Reorganized 3rd Division.
In the afternoon of September 3, 1946, the nationalist Reorganized 47th Division had advanced to the region to the south of Three Hills Hotel and Usual Road Village . Meanwhile, the 3rd Brigade of the nationalist Reorganized 3rd Division advanced to the Rheum officinale Market region, the headquarter brigade of the nationalist Reorganized 3rd Division advanced to the Celestial Grandpa Temple region, and the 20th Brigade of the nationalist Reorganized 3rd Division advanced to the Greater Poplar Lake region. At 11:30 PM, the two commies groups on the left and on the right suddenly simultaneously attacked, concentrated on the 20th Brigade of the nationalist Reorganized 3rd Division, but the nationalists put up a gallant fight, and with the help of armor and air support, the initial commie attack was successfully thrown back by the next day, with commies only able to destroy three battalions of the besieged nationalist division.
Zhao Xitian , the commander of the nationalist Reorganized 3rd Division realized that his division was surrounded by the enemy and radioed for help, and Liu Chih ordered all units to immediately push toward the besieged division for the rescue. From September 4 thru September 5, 1946, nationalist Reorganized 47th Division attempted to reinforce their besieged comrades-in-arms from the south, but their advance was firmly checked by the commie 3rd Column in the region of Peach Garden . Other nationalist divisions were also stopped by the stubborn enemy resistance and thus could not reach the besieged nationalist Reorganized 3rd Division.
On September 5, 1946, the commies launched their general assault on the besieged nationalist Reorganized 3rd Division. By the morning of September 6, 1946, the nationalist Reorganized 20th Brigade was completely annihilated in the region of Greater Poplar Lake , while the nationalist Reorganized 3rd Brigade was badly mauled in the region of Greater Poplar Lake . By noon, the remnant of the nationalist Reorganized 3rd Brigade finally linked up with the surviving headquarter brigade of the nationalist Reorganized 3rd Division, and the surviving nationalists attempted to breakout southward. However, the survivors of the nationalist Reorganized 3rd Division were completely annihilated by the waiting commies in the Qinzhai region, and their commander Zhao Xitian was captured alive by the enemy.
After the nationalist Reorganized 3rd Division was completely annihilated, other overstretched and tired nationalist forces which was short on supply immediately retreated toward Kaocheng and Lanfeng . Seizing the opportunity, commies gave a chase and the nationalist Reorganized 47th Division which was closest to the enemy became the first victim, with its flank being attacked from the rear. After a fierce battle that lasted an entire day, two brigades were lost. At the same time, the retreating nationalist Reorganized 41st, 55th, and 68th Divisions were also chased by the enemy, each losing a battalion respectively when the campaign concluded in the morning of September 8, 1946. Although nationalists attempted to send more troops from Xuzhou to reinforce their comrades-in-arms in Zhengzhou, they advance were firmed checked by the stubborn enemy in Chengwu region for the entire duration of the campaign.
The nationalists suffered over seventeen thousand losses, including five thousand fatalities and another twelve thousand being captured by the enemy. In addition, commies also captured six tanks and large amount of supplies from the nationalists. Another benefit for the commies brought by their victory of the campaign was that it relieved the pressure of commies elsewhere as the campaign had forced the nationalist to withdraw some of their units deployed in the Campaign of the North China Plain Pocket originally planned to encircle commie force under the command of Li Xiannian, who eventually led his force to escape successfully from the nationalists.
The reason for the nationalist defeat was due to their overconfidence for that they enjoyed both the numerical and technical advantages. However, as the nationalists pushed deep inside the enemy territory, their force were split and thus they no longer enjoyed local numerical superiority despite having overall absolute superiority in the entire front. This opportunity was exploited by the enemy who concentrated their force to achieve local numerical superiority and successfully annihilated the attacking nationalist division that was relatively isolated for venturing too far away from other nationalist units. According to commies, along with the Campaign of the North China Plain Pocket and the Central Jiangsu Campaign, Dingtao Campaign was one of these three critical campaigns that helped to stabilize the southern front for the commies in the initial stage of the Chinese Civil War in the post World War II era.