History of the Second World War, Vol 8

Chiang and his Generals: from left to right (standing): Chu Shih-ming Gilbert Cheves Lin Yeh-han, Henry Barber and (seated)-. Ho Yin-chin, Claire Chennault, General Chiang Kai- Shek Robert McClure, and Chien Ta-chun first Burma campaign. This lent credence to Chennaults claim The Generalissimo found the Japanese occupying much of North China the valleys of the Yellow River and the Yangtse and the principal seaports. To protect the rest of China with its capital far to the west in Chungking he had some 300 weak divisions of which about the 30 best were loyal to him personally. He proceeded to organise Chinas defences by creating six war areas (see map), to which others were added over the years making a total of 12. These war areas inlay a great arc shielding Free China with its great provinces its own authorities and own troops such as Yunnan under Governor Lung Yun. In the rear of each war area, or at strategic spots in each province some of the Generalissimo’s own troops were positioned to guarantee the loyalty of local authorities. By creating the 12 war areas Chiang established a de­ centralised system the Japanese could not conqueror subvert with a single stroke. He also created 12 centres of politico-m ilitary power within Nationalist China. The consequences were many. First each war area commander was a potential claimant to the leadership of Nationalist China, awhile coalition of several such would abe grave problem to Chiang. Consequently he needed great diplomatic skill to keep a balance among them. It may even be suggested that his most important contribution to Chinas great war against Japan was to preserve the unity of this armed coalition. Secondly the dispersal of the central government's forces meant that it had no central reserve. The war area system and the problems it created led to diffi­culties in the conduct of operations whenever the Japanese chose to attack. If a commander were to be outstandingly successful against them he might come to challenge the Generalissimo’s position. On the other hand commanders who were unsuccessful might bethought of as disloyal rather than as unskilful or unlucky. The Generalissimos response was to attempt the detailed conduct of operations from Chungking. In his letters telegrams and tele­phone calls he paid no attention to the chain of command but dealt directly with the man on the spot whose superiors were left to learn of these matters as best they could. The Generalissimos appoint­ments reinforced this system so that loyalty to him rather than success in battle became the key to a brilliant military career. Another problem created by the system was that of choosing Chinese divisions to receive Lend-Lease arms to fill the gaps in their armouries. In 1941 the Chinese requested Lend-Lease equip­ment for 30 divisions but it was years before they settled which divisions were to bethe lucky ones and so it maybe surmised that divisional commanders came and went in favour as politics shifted back and forth within the Nationalist camp. Awkward chain of command It should be noted that the Chinese doctrine of command did not facilitate handling 12 war areas and 300 divisions. General Ho Ying-Chin Chiang's Chief-of-Staff explained that a Chinese officer would accept orders only from his superior that an order given through a staff officer or a liaison officer had no weight. Because of the shortage of transport (there were perhaps 10,000 trucks in Free China) at a time when the Japanese had overrun much of the rail network and the ineffectiveness of the supply service each war area organised conscripted fed clothed and armed its own troops. It purchased from local markets by using local taxes plus subsidies from the Generalissimos central govern­ment. This military localism reinforced by the strong Chinese provincial tradition meant that the Chinese army between 1941 and 1945 was a coalition army with each war area commander a local potentate. Consequently the Generalissimo faced a most difficult problem in maintaining his position and that of his govern­ment. The Japanese drive through East China in 1944 to take the US airfields brought Westerners into contact with the realities of the Generalissimos problems and the way they affected war in China, in a fashion that had earlier been impossible. The airfields lay within General Hsueh Yuehs 9th War Area. The Generalissimo had come to doubt that Hsuehs loyalty to the Nationalist cause ex­tended to him and on or about June 51944 he forbade the ship­ment of any supplies Chinese or US Lend-Lease to Hsueh and maintained the embargo until February 221945. Yet Hsueh Yueh still attempted to defend the area with support from the US 14th Air Force. At this time the Japanese line of communication ran through General Chang Fa-kweis 4th War Area (later merged with the 7th). Nevertheless the Generalissimo felt that it would not be enough to send Chang orders to attack the Japanese instead a special envoy would have to be sent. Yet after the war the Japanese remarked that they had still felt free to send their Hong Kong- Canton garrison north to attack the US airfields because of an arrangement with yet another war area commander. Chiang Kai-sheks problems with the war area commanders in­evitably affected his relationships with those American officers sent to assist him. On December 291941 at the suggestion of the Combined Chiefs-of-Staff he was nominated Supreme Commander of an Allied China Theatre but since he was also Head of State, this made him into aSupreme Commander independent of the CGS, a unique position among those who held such posts. Thus on Jan­uary 51942 the Generalissimo asked that the US send an Ameri­ canto head the combined staff which was then contemplated for the new theatre and in response the US sent Lieutenant- General Joseph W. Stilwell. Marshall gave Stilwell a variety of responsibilities in addition to those of Head-of-Staff and he was not only made commander of the US Task Force in China (and so the senior US officer there), US commander in India and Burma but also told to supervise and control US Lend-Lease to China he was also explicitly charged with increasing the effectiveness of the US military assistance to China and with improving the combat efficiency of the Chinese army. Chiang Kai-shek therefore was but one among Stilwell’s three masters for the latter was not only subordinate to him but also to Field-Marshal Sir Archibald Wavell (India and Burma) and to the US government. In practice the Wavell-Stilwell relationship (and Wavell was later to suggest that the two were kinsmen) offered no problems these real problems appeared in China. The first Burma campaign of 1942 did great probably lasting harm to the Chiang/Stilwell relationship. Chiang gave Stilwell nominal command of the Chinese Expeditionary Force then as was consistent with his treatment of Chinese subordinates pro­ceeded to bypass him. As a result Stilwell found himself unable to conduct operations ashe was not a Chinese abut professional soldier of a Western power. But when China did not receive the Lend-Lease equipment it had expected the Chinese blamed Stil­ well with the result that by the summer of 1942 each man had harsh feelings about the other. When at the end of the campaign Stilwell sought to begin his work in China he found the Generalissimo unwilling to setup a combined staff for the Chinese theatre and unwilling to respond or even to answer Stilwells proposals that the Chinese army be re-shaped to eliminate the weaknesses described above. As one result Stilwell found himself in the faintly comic role of a Chief- of-Staff who had no staff. His position was difficult his comments on it were often caustic and they reached the Chinese leader. For his part the Generalissimo as aHead of State dealt directly with President Roosevelt. The US President is also C-in-C of his coun­ trys armed services so Stilwell was bypassed in Washington ashe had been in Burma. Even though Stilwell was carrying out the orders and receiving the warm support of his US military superiors, this was not enough to counter Chiangs dissatisfaction. The Generalissimos support was given instead to the second of his American assistants Brigadier-General Claire Chennault of the US Army Air Force. The American volunteer fighter group which Chennault had organised and trained had done brilliantly in the that with a force of 137 aircraft he could defeat Japan. To the Generalissimo such may have seemed the way to finesse the problems attendant on the Stilwell/Marshall plans to reorganise the Chinese army in any event he gave Chennault his whole­hearted backing as did Roosevelt —through Madame Chiang, through the Chinese cabinet ministers in Washington such as Dr V.T. Soong and through allies in the US press. Indue course Chennault received command of the US 14th Air Force with ab­solute first-priority claim on supplies flown into China and the post of Chief-of-Staff Chinese Air Force —a post that signalled his access to and relation with the Generalissimo. Stilwell turns to Burma For his part Stilwell found that the Presidents approval of Chennaults plans made his role as Chief-of-Staff to the Supreme Commander China Theatre a purely formal one. Nevertheless with few contacts between himself and key Chinese he proceeded doggedly to seek to train and re-arm 60 Chinese divisions and to operate army training schools. But the Chinese showed little in­terest the process was slow and by October 1943 Stilwell con­cluded that he personally could do nothing more in China. Marshall and Stilwell had warned that approval of Chennaults plans would in time cause the Japanese to attack the latters airfields by aground offensive but Sti I wells position In China did not permit him to affect the course of events there. Stilwell therefore turned his attention to India and Burma where he was acting as Deputy Supreme Allied Commander of the South-East Asia Command, and Chiang allowed him to command three Chinese divisions. By July 1944 the Japanese had their long-predicted China offen­sive underway and appeared well able to handle the opposition put up by General Hsueh Yuehs Chinese troops and Chennault’s American air force. The US Joint Chiefs-of-Staff fearing that China might be driven from the war and believing that Stilwell had been vindicated by events recommended to President Roosevelt on July 41944 that he ask Chiang Kai-shek to put Stilwell in command of all the Chinese armed forces. Looking at Stilwells recent suc­cesses in North Burma they argued that only he had been able to get the Chinese to fight effectively against Japan. Chiang Kai-sheks agreement in principle raised the question of defining StiIwells role so that he could exercise command in the way that he and his US superiors understood it. Given the com­plicated relationships between Chiang and his war area com­manders (and it will be recalled that the Generalissimo was current­ly blocking supplies to the key Chinese commander in the path of the Japanese offensive) one may doubt if Chiang would have felt able to maintain his position against the war area commanders if Stilwell were free to supply themas the military situation might suggest. Nevertheless after some weeks of negotiations con­ducted by a special presidential emissary Major-General Patrick J. Hurley it seemed possible that he was about to achieve a satis­factory definition giving Stilwell responsibility and authority. At this delicate point a strong but localised counter-Japanese
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